Gopher vs Mole: What are the Main Differences?

Last Modified on March 18, 2024 by Zachary Smith

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Have you noticed strange mounds of dirt in your yard? If so, the culprit could be a digging pest like a gopher or a mole – but how do you tell the difference between the two?

Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we’ve helped Bay Area customers get rid of moles and gophers for over 15 years, so we know what it takes to identify and eliminate these destructive critters.

In this blog, we’ll share our top tips for differentiating gophers from moles, identifying the damage each pest creates, and reclaiming your outdoor space.

What are Gophers?

what are gophers

Gophers, also known as pocket gophers, are small, furry rodents famous for digging up yards and other open spaces. They weigh about a pound, and adults can grow to 5-14” in length.

Gophers eat roots, tubers, grasses, and seeds. They have external, fur-lined cheek pouches that extend to their shoulders, which they use to transport and store food. They also have four huge incisors that allow them to eat tough, woody plants.

Like moles, gophers are made to dig. Their tiny ears, dense, powerful bodies, broad feet, and sharp claws allow them to move through soil quickly and efficiently.

Gophers live throughout North and Central America, and they love to create burrows and tunnels in lawns, gardens, golf courses, and more.

What are Moles?

mole

Moles (members of the family Talpidae) are small burrowing mammals that spend most of their lives underground, where they eat and dig burrows.

Unlike gophers, moles are not rodents, although they are closely related to shrews and hedgehogs.

Meant to live most of their lives underground, moles have sensitive snouts and large, paddle-like feet with long claws that allow them to move dirt out of the way as they dig.

While moles have poor eyesight, their highly sensitive snouts allow them to sense and interact with the world around them.

Moles also have fur that sticks up straight, which prevents soil from getting ground down toward their skin when they back through their tunnels. Moles are slightly smaller than gophers, with most large males growing to no more than 10” in length.

Common species of moles include the Townsend’s mole and the broad-footed mole. Moles are insectivores, which means they eat worms and other insects that live in the soil around plants.

Animal Appearance What they Eat Behavior
Moles Pointed snouts, enlarged, rounded front feet with long claws, short, hairless tails, bodies that are 5-8” long with short, velvety fur that is gray or silver in color. Earthworms, beetle grubs, ants, and other insects Moles are mostly solitary and are active throughout the day and night, although they forage less in very hot or cold temperatures. Moles spend most of their time digging tunnels in search of food.
Gophers Medium-sized bodies that range from 5-14” long, fine, soft fur that ranges in color from black to light brown, strong, powerful bodies, short necks, small, flattened heads, small external ears, small eyes, and large claws on their forepaws. Roots, tubers, grasses, seeds Gophers are solitary animals who are active throughout the year at all times of the day and night. They live underground and only emerge occasionally to gather food, which they store in their cheek pouches and cache in their burrows for later consumption.

How to Tell if You’re Dealing with Gophers or Moles

It’s probably a gopher if you notice the following…

Mounds Gopher mounds look like horseshoes or kidney beans. Mounds range in size, but they all feature dirt excavated in a fan pattern. Gophers plug the entry hole to their mounds with dirt and usually create several holes or mounds within a six-foot radius of one another.
Patches of dirt If you notice dried patches of flat dirt, it may be old gopher mounds that the lawn mower has flattened.
Garden or crop damage Gophers cause plant damage like stem girdling and clipping and root exposure. They may pull entire plants into their burrows with them, or cause plants to topple over.

It’s probably a mole if you see any of these signs…

Dead grass While moles don’t eat the roots of plants and grasses, their digging disrupts root systems and can cause patches of dry, dead grass.
Molehills Moles create distinctive volcano-shaped mounds.
Mounds While gophers create entrance and exit mounds, theirs are grouped close together. Moles, on the other hand, create mounds that are usually more than six feet apart.
Dirt Chunks When gophers make mounds of dirt, they pulverize the soil and excavate fine, loose powder. Moles, however, dig up and excavate dirt in large clumps. If you notice clumps of soil near mounds in your yard, it’s a sign that moles are present.
Surface Runways Moles create surface runways, which are feeding tunnels just below the soil surface. These runways look like raised ridges and usually are not accompanied by mounds.

How to Eliminate Gophers

gopher damage

  • Inspect for gophers. Before you can get rid of gophers, you need to confirm you’re dealing with gophers rather than moles or some other digging pest. Remember that gophers make fan- or horseshoe-shaped piles of dirt, while moles make long, zigzag-shaped ridges in the lawn and distinct, volcano-shaped mounds. Gophers also feed on gardens and ornamental plants, while moles only eat insects. With this in mind, look for plants that are toppled over or show signs of gnawing on or around the roots.
  • Start trapping. Trapping is the most effective and efficient way to get rid of gophers. For traps to succeed, you need to place them in active tunnels. Remember that gophers don’t leave their holes open, so you’ll need to use a stick or a screwdriver to probe around piles and identify tunnels and runways. Once you’ve found an active tunnel, set traps inside the tunnel, with a trap facing each direction. Stake the traps down and close the hole with a piece of plywood. Check the traps within 24-48 hours. If you haven’t caught a gopher within 48 hours, relocate the traps.
  • Use gopher baskets. Plant landscape plants in stainless steel or high-quality galvanized gopher baskets. You can also place galvanized gopher wire under your lawn to prevent gophers from digging up underneath the wire and eating the roots of your plants. That said, these methods aren’t foolproof: gophers can come up out of the ground and climb down into gopher baskets, where they eat the roots of your plants.
  • Use gopher baits. To use poison gopher bait, you’ll need to find an active tunnel, insert the poison at the right quantity (according to the label directions), and close up the tunnel. ALWAYS wear protective equipment when you handle gopher baits, and never broadcast spread baits in unprotected locations where kids, pets, and non-target species may encounter them.

For more information on how to get rid of gophers, check out our blog.

If you want professional help getting rid of gophers, contact us for gopher control services.

How to Eliminate Moles

lawn mole damage

  • Identify active runways. Getting rid of moles starts with identifying their active runways. To find these runways, use a screwdriver or stick to probe the soil near mounds of dirt. When the stick sinks into the ground, you’ve likely found an active runway. Keep in mind that mole runways are usually straight, and they typically connect two mounds or runways. Runways also tend to follow human-made borders, like fences or yard perimeters.
  • Trap the moles. Harpoon and scissor-jaw traps effectively control mole populations, especially during the spring and fall, when moles are most active. Just like with gophers, you need to place mole traps in active runways. For best results, set 3-5 traps for each acre of property you have.
  • Bait moles. Mole baits come in various forms: grain baits, synthetic worms, and gel baits. For more information on using mole baits effectively, check out our blog on how to get rid of moles in your lawn and garden.
  • Consider fumigants. Fumigants can be effective, but they’re highly dangerous, and you’ve got to use them carefully. Fumigants like aluminum phosphine tablets and gas cartridges should always be inserted deep into mole tunnels and should only be used when the soil’s moisture content is high – in the spring and fall.
  • Create mole barriers. To prevent moles from digging into your yard, dig a trench that’s 2 feet deep and 6 inches wide and fill it with rocks or wire mesh. Remember that moles can crawl over a trench and burrow into the ground behind or around it, so these are not foolproof exclusion methods.

Are Gophers or Moles Destroying Your Lawn? We can Help!

Whether you’ve got gophers or moles (or both) in your yard, you don’t have to live with frustrating mounds and other damage forever.

Smith’s is here to help! Our team provides commercial and residential gopher and mole control services for customers in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Contact us at (408) 871-6988 today to learn more about our green and eco-friendly pest management and discover how we can help you reclaim your yard. 

Author Bio: Zach Smith

Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 15+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.