These two burrowing animal species, both often seen in our yards and gardens, are easily confused because of their behaviour and physical characteristics. Since they’re so similar, many people can’t tell the gopher vs mole difference.
The easiest way to tell moles and gophers apart is by the teeth, feet, nose, and tail. Moles have shorter teeth and tails, but noticeably longer noses and wider feet. Gophers are also larger on average.
But there’s more to this than just physical description; gophers and moles have completely different diets and their behaviour isn’t similar at all. Getting rid of them also requires different methods. Let’s take a look.
Why Gophers and Moles Are Easily Confused
If you think about it, gophers and moles are similar in appearance. Moles are typically darker, but there are gophers with dark coats as well. Their sizes also overlap, although gophers are larger on average.
One truly damning factor in this regard is their burrowing – both of these animals spend a great part of their life below the ground, leading to trouble with identification.
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Key Differences Between Gophers and Moles
If we take a closer look, we’ll see that there are major differences between gophers and moles that allow you to instantly recognize which is which. These differences include physical appearance, habitat, behaviour, and diet.
Gophers and moles aren’t related at all. They’re both mammals, but that’s about as close as they come to one another. Gophers are rodents, which makes them related to rats, mice, and squirrels, but moles are members of the Eulipotyphla order.
This means that they’re related to hedgehogs and shrews – not gophers.
Gophers vs Mole Size
The easiest way to tell these animals apart is by their appearance.
Moles are smaller on average – taking the European mole as a representative, they don’t grow past 6.5 inches in length. Gophers, in comparison, can grow up to 14 inches in length, meaning they’re more than double the size of a mole.
There are four more physical characteristics that make telling gophers and moles apart easy.
Gophers have very long, prominent teeth that never stop growing – moles don’t. Secondly, moles have large, wide paws that enable digging – gopher paws are smaller in comparison.
Then, moles also have long noses (or in the case of the star-nosed mole – a nose with tentacle-like appendages), and gophers have shorter noses. The last descriptive characteristic is the tail – moles have very short tails, while gophers can grow a 3-inch-long tail.
Fur colour isn’t really relevant as both moles and gophers have different fur colours – this depends on the habitat they’re found in.
These factors are the easiest way to tell a mole from a gopher.
What Do Gophers and Moles Eat
The feeding habits of gophers and moles are also entirely different. Moles are exclusively carnivores, feeding on earthworms, maggots, grubs, and insects, but also small mammals – such as shrews and mice. If a mole comes across a small gopher under the ground, it might eat it.
Gophers, on the other hand, are strictly herbivores – they feed on plant roots and underground plants. When they invade our gardens, they’ll eat both vegetable roots and plants that grow below the ground (such as carrots).
Moles spend the majority of their life below the ground. When compared to gophers, it’s found that gophers spend more time above the ground than moles. Despite this, they’re both burrowing animals that can be difficult to eradicate because of this.
When baby moles are born, they have to find a new area to burrow into, and they usually do this on foot – this is the only part of their life when they’ll remain on the surface for a long period of time. Aside from that and mating, moles are always found below the ground.
They don’t like dry soil or flooded soil – well-irrigated soil is rich in small animals, which makes it the favourite type of soil for a mole. Moles don’t care about altitude or the constitution of the soil.
The same can’t be said for gophers – they have a preference for moist soil, which is why agricultural fields and home gardens are their favourite areas of residence.
They’re also often found in areas with thin, easily movable soil (usually combined with soil).
Because of the abundance of food in your yard and garden, where there are both earthworms and vegetable roots, it’s possible to have a gopher and mole infestation at the same time.
Gopher and Mole Damage in Yards and Gardens
Since they’re both burrowing animals, gophers and moles cause similar damage in yards and gardens.
The most well-known type of damage (which is also the most obvious symptom of a mole in the yard) is a mole mound. As moles dig below the ground, the soil they move has to go somewhere.
It’s forced to the surface, which destroys the lawn. This isn’t only an everyday problem – it’s much more serious when it happens on athletic fields as athletes can easily hurt themselves running on mounds and ridges caused by moles.
This is only the beginning. Because of their intense digging, moles can displace plants, which usually destroys them. Know that moles don’t actually eat the plants, they only harm them by moving them.
Aside from plant damage, mole mounds are great for weed germination, which is just another problem you’ll have to deal with.
The good news about moles is that while they can seriously damage your lawn and your plants, they’re easy to detect. A mole will always leave mole mounds behind.
Gophers have a similar effect on the garden but with one major difference. Unlike moles, they don’t destroy your plants by displacing them, they destroy them by eating the roots.
They mainly feed on roots and plants that grow below the ground (carrots, for example), and a gopher can destroy an entire row of plants in a very short time period. During the winter, when food is scarce, gophers will come out of their holes to seek out other food sources such as tree bark.
Gophers also chew on underground pipes, especially plastic ones, which can cause leaks. On top of that, their tunnelling can seriously interfere with irrigation, causing soil erosion.
All of this should make getting rid of gophers and moles your top priority.
How to Get Rid of Gophers and Moles
Eradication methods for gophers and moles are similar because they share a crucial characteristic – both species are mostly below the ground.
For both animals, trapping is recommended as the most effective method of control, however, very few traps are effective on both moles and gophers. And while setting traps is easy – buying them is not.
Both mole and gopher traps are expensive and people often turn to alternative methods to save money.
Baits are effective with both gophers and moles. They used to be ineffective on moles because most baits come in grain form (and moles don’t eat grain), but new, gel-like baits have been developed and they’re showing some promise.
This method is very straightforward – you set the bait, which smells like the animal’s favourite food, in the burrow and wait for it to eat it and die.
The only issue is – some baits aren’t accessible to you as you don’t have the proper license. They’re full of dangerous chemicals, after all, so it’s recommended that they’re used only by pest control experts.
This method has shown success with gophers, but not as much success with moles. Gophers build smaller burrows and they’re easier to fill with smoke, while moles have massive tunnels (often expanding into your neighbour’s yard) and they can easily avoid the smoke.
Once again, this method works best when applied by experts.
A similar method to this is flooding the tunnel system, but this can be even harder. While it can definitely work on gophers, mole tunnel systems are, once again, simply too large to get flooded easily.
Alternative methods include incorporating beneficial predators (such as owls) in the yard, introducing mole barriers, and limiting your yard with an underground fence.
FAQ Gopher vs Mole
What Attracts Gophers To My Yard?
Gophers prefer habitats with no predators and plenty of food. It’s likely that the gopher is feeding on the roots of plants in your yard and that the soil is moist, which makes it easy to dig through.
Gopher Vs Mole Final Thoughts
Both gophers and moles can be extremely detrimental to your garden if you don’t react on time. The digging of these animals can disrupt the soil so badly that it destroys your plants and ruins your irrigation system.
On top of that, gophers feed on roots and they can eat through a good portion of your vegetable garden very quickly. They can be stopped, though, if you react on time.
Trapping is the most effective control method for both of these animals, while fumigation and baiting are both good alternatives if a trap doesn’t work.
The University of Kentucky – Fumigation of Moles