WHAT’S EATING YOU? The difference between moles and voles

By ALYSSA BESSER, Brown County Purdue Extension

Q: What is eating my sweet potatoes? When I dig up my sweet potatoes, they have big bites taken out of them, and sometimes the stems have been chewed off. I have set mole traps.

This gardener brought in his damaged sweet potatoes to be diagnosed, and just like he described, large amounts of his sweet potatoes had been eaten, and the stems had been chewed off.

This is likely vole damage. Voles, often called field mice, are similar to house mice in size and shape but rarely invade homes as they prefer grassy fields and landscape beds.

Some people confuse moles and voles: while voles are herbivores eating seeds, grass, leaves and sometimes roots and tubers, voles move around above ground.

Voles are a main meal for Brown County birds of prey, thus, removing debris and mulch will aid in their control.

On the other hand, moles eat grubs and earthworms and move solely beneath the soil, creating the mole hills so easily identified.

Sometimes, voles discover your sweet potatoes when they enter a mole run and find themselves underground, faced with your tasty tuber.

One of the best ways to control voles is a snap trap like you would set for house mice, baited with peanut butter and placed near the entrance of a mole run.

In this case, a mole trap may have aided in vole damage control. If the moles were trapped and not creating underground pathways to your crop, damage may have been reduced, but depending on the depth of the sweet potatoes, voles could be reaching them from above ground.

Happy harvests.

Alyssa Besse
Alyssa Besser

Do you have a lawn or garden question? Send it to Alyssa Besser at abesser@purdue.edu. Alyssa Besser is the Brown County Purdue Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development/Agriculture and Natural Resources.