You can’t just lump gophers and moles together when it comes to getting rid of them. Even though they both make a mess of your yard by burrowing around, these critters are two very different pests.

Their diets alone mean you’ve got to approach things differently for each one. Trust me, I’ve seen folks waste a ton of time and money using the wrong methods because they didn’t understand the key distinctions.

Over the years of dealing with these underground nuisances, I’ve learned you’ve got to tailor your strategy based on whether you’re up against gophers or moles. Get it wrong, and you’re just spinning your wheels while they keep tearing up your lawn or crop fields. But get it right from the start, and you’re on the fast track to reclaiming your turf. Let me break it down for you.

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Physical Differences Between Gophers and Moles?

Getting a clear look at these critters is step one in identifying your unwanted houseguest. They’re both rodents, so they’ve got some similar features. But trust me, you’ll know the difference when you see it.

Gophers definitely have that classic rodent vibe going on – beady eyes, big front teeth for gnawing, whiskers, round ears, and a long skinny tail. Their back feet are armed with some serious claws for digging too.

At first glance, you might mistake one for just a really big rat hustling across your yard. Moles, on the other hand, are downright weird looking – in a totally distinct way.

Check out these key differences:

  • Elongated, pinkish snout/muzzle
  • Small eyes
  • Cheek pouches
  • Large, broad feet that almost look webbed with big claws
  • Very short fur that makes their bellies look naked
  • Bright pink feet that really stand out against their velvety gray fur

Those big, shovel-like front paws are built for powerfully dislodging soil as they go. Between that odd snout and those funky feet, you’d never confuse a mole for any other burrowing critter once you get a good look at one.

So do a little recon first and get a visual ID. From there, you’ll know whether you’re dealing with a gopher situation or a mole problem – and that’ll tell you the best control strategy.

Differences in Behavior Between Gophers and Moles?

Gophers live alone in their burrows, which can be quite extensive. Only when mating, or when the female is caring for her young, will there be more than one gopher per burrow. However, their burrows can interconnect with each other. Their population density can be very high, sometimes, up to 60 per acre if there is an alfalfa field for them to eat from.

Pocket gophers, as they’re sometimes called, get their name from the deep, fur-lined external pouches on their cheeks that they use to carry food in.

Moles also live alone, and the burrow systems of several moles may be connected, just like gophers. They burrow year-round, peaking in May through June, and a single mole can create an extensive network of burrows. They mate in February and March but are otherwise solitary. Population density for moles is much lower than for gophers, only about 2–3 per acre.

Differences Between Gopher and Mole Diets?

Gophers are vegetarians. Although they’ll suck down some smaller insects while they’re feeding, that’s just an incidental type of thing.

They’re going for the veggies. They eat mostly plant roots and tubers. Alfalfa and dandelions are their favorites, along with tree roots, bulbs, leaves, and tender roots they encounter while digging.

Moles, by contrast, are carnivores. Most people consider them to be very slow creatures, but moles actually have very high energy requirements because of their never-ending tunneling behavior. Consequently, they have very large appetites.

They can eat nearly 70-80 percent of their own body weight every day. They actively feed day and night year-round. Some of the things moles eat are mature insects, snail larvae, spiders, small vertebrates, earthworms and, occasionally, small amounts of vegetation. Earthworms and white grubs are their preferred foods.

These dietary differences can have significant results. Gophers will cause damage to crops and plants by eating their roots, whereas moles will damage your yard by digging it up and leaving tunnel lines everywhere. Gophers cause the most economic damage, while moles cause mostly aesthetic damage to the beauty of your landscaping.

Gopher Holes vs. Mole Holes

Gopher mounds exhibit a distinctive fan-shaped, horseshoe, or semi-circular shape. The entrance to the burrow is on the “open” side of the mound. Once you see one, you’ll never mistake it for anything else. They really stand out.

Their tunnels are 12-18 inches underground, so they’re mostly invisible from above. The only indications of their presence are the mounds – and each gopher can have several mounds connected to the same tunnel system.

Mole mounds, on the other hand, look like miniature volcanoes, round with the burrow entrance in the center. Their tunnels, on the other hand, are clearly visible everywhere they go. They leave the ground soft and mushy. One of the dangers associated with them is the risk of a twisted ankle if you step on a mole tunnel and it collapses under your weight.

What Damage Do Gophers and Moles Cause?

Regarding the damage caused by gophers and moles, you’re looking at two different flavors of headache:

Gophers are the outright plant killers. They have a massive appetite for roots, bulbs, seedlings, and pretty much any vegetation they can get their teeth into.

But it’s not just their eating habits that wreak havoc. All tunneling gophers do results in raised soil mounds, exposed root systems, and a maze of underground burrows that mess with your irrigation and leave your yard looking like a minefield.

Moles take a more subtle but still highly destructive approach. Their endless tunneling in search of grubs, earthworms, and other soil insects pops up those same unsightly mounds and ridges across your lawn. Worse, all those tunnels allow airpockets to form which can dry out and kill grassroots, flower beds, and other vegetation over time.

How to Tell If You Have a Gopher or Mole Problem?

If you’re starting to see signs of uninvited houseguests tunneling around your yard, there are some key giveaways to whether gophers or moles are the culprits.

With gophers, you’ll notice airvent holes along the surface of their tunnels – little openings they use to get fresh air circulating underground. The mounds of dirt they leave behind also tend to be flatter and wider, spread out in a circular pattern.

Mole tunnels, on the other hand, result in a series of raised ridges or molehills snaking across your lawn, almost like miniature volcanoes erupting in a line. Their conical dirt mounds tend to be smaller but higher than gopher mounds.

You can also often track which routes these guys are taking based on the condition of your grass and vegetation. Gopher tunnels uproot plants from below, leaving dead patches. Moles don’t feed on roots but their tunneling dries out grassroots, creating brown, sunken trails along the surface.

How Do You Get Rid of Gophers and Moles?

Gophers can be eradicated by:

  • Trapping their runs
  • Baiting their runs and mounds
  • Use of sonic or chemical repellents
  • Fumigating their burrows

Click here for more information on gopher removal.

Moles can be eradicated by:

  • Trapping their runs
  • Baiting their runs
  • Use of sonic or chemical mole repellents
  • Spraying pesticides to kill the insects they feed on
  • Get rid of their food source

Click here for more information on mole removal.

Fumigation works fairly well on gophers because their burrows are deep enough underground to prevent major leakages of the gases used on them.

It’s rather time-consuming because of the need to fumigate each mound separately and seal off any leaks that do occur – and there are always some. Fumigation doesn’t work on moles because their tunnels are so close to the surface there’s no way to trap the gases inside. It’d be like trying to fumigate a roll of chicken wire.

Spraying does work for moles though, not by spraying them but by spraying pesticides to kill the insects they feed on. I once sprayed 200 gallons of Dominion on a woman’s yard to kill the bugs her moles were eating. I killed a lot of bugs that day but it’s a one-time fix. When the bugs come back, so do the moles.

Spraying doesn’t work on gophers at all.

Moles vs. Voles

As homeowners, it’s important not to confuse voles with moles – these rodents are an entirely separate pest. Voles are basically chunky little meadow mice that stick to the surface, making networks of runways through your grass and groundcover.

Unlike the soil-diving moles, voles will munch on bark, seeds, bulbs, and plants from ground level. You’ll see irregular lines of closely cropped vegetation where their runways pass through. Moles, conversely, leave raised ridges from their underground tunneling in search of insects and grubs.

Voles’ larger size, stouter bodies, and shorter tails also clearly distinguish them from the cylindrical, paddle-footed moles. Same type of nuisance behavior – different creepy critter altogether.

Final Thoughts on Moles and Gophers

At the end of the day, gophers and moles are cousins from the rodent family tree, but they’re far from identical twins. The way I see it, once you know the key signs to look for, telling them apart is pretty straightforward.

Sure, they’re both loners who’ll leave your yard looking like a minefield with all their tunnels and dirt mounds. But the damage they do is a little different – gophers go after your plants from the roots up, while moles are just munching on the insects and grubs.

When it comes time to get rid of them, the playbookis mostly the same – prep the area, figure out the runways, and then hit ’em hard. Except for gophers, you can really cinch it by fumigating those tunnels. With moles, spraying insecticides cuts off their food supply and starves them out.

If you’re struggling to get rid of them on your own, it’s best to call in a professional pest control company.

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Article Update Log
5/14/2024
Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Coty Perry.
Editorial Contributors
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Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management.

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Coty Perry

Expert Writer & Reviewer

Coty Perry is a lawn and garden writer for Today’s Homeowner. He focuses on providing homeowners with actionable tips that relate to the “Average Joe” who is looking to achieve a healthier and greener lawn. When he isn’t writing he can almost always be found coaching youth football or on some trail in Pennsylvania in search of the next greatest fishing hole.

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