Welcome to the hidden world beneath the Alberta soils! You may think all those critters burrowing underground are the same, but in this post we’ll explore the differences between three intriguing creatures that inhabit this underground realm: the pocket gopher, vole, and mole. These small mammals might seem similar at first glance, but each boasts unique characteristics that set them apart.
First up is the pocket gopher, also known as the ‘true’ gopher. Named for their fur-lined external cheek pockets, these burrowing rodents use these pockets to carry food and nesting materials. Although not native to Alberta, pocket gophers can occasionally be found due to introductions by human activity. They are usually solitary animals, building extensive tunnel systems, often found in fields or under lawns.
Pocket gophers, known scientifically as Geomyidae, are distinctive for their powerful forelimbs for digging and large incisor teeth that protrude from the mouth. Typically brown to black in color, these rodents weigh between 200 and 300 grams, with males being larger than females. They have a diet primarily composed of plant matter, feeding on roots and tubers they encounter while digging.
Voles, part of the rodent family and also known as meadow mice or field mice, are native to Alberta. They are often confused with mice or moles due to their similar appearance, but a closer look will reveal some differences. Voles have a stouter body, a shorter, hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, small ears, and relatively larger eyes than either pocket gophers or moles.
There are several species of voles found in Alberta, including the meadow vole and the prairie vole. These critters are generally herbivorous, feeding on seeds, tubers, and various green vegetation. They are also known for creating “runways” or paths in the grass where they travel. Voles are sociable animals, living in colonies, and unlike pocket gophers, voles are also known for their above-ground activity.
While you won’t find any moles in Alberta, it’s still worth mentioning them for comparative purposes. Moles are a group of small, insectivorous mammals that are known for their burrowing habits. While they share the underground lifestyle with gophers and voles, moles belong to a different order, Talpidae, separate from the rodents.
Moles are characterized by their broad, powerful, spade-like forelimbs adapted for digging, tiny eyes, and velvety fur. Their diet mainly consists of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in soil. Moles are solitary creatures, like pocket gophers, and are rarely seen above ground.
Main Difference, voles vs gophers
Despite these three creatures seeming so similar, it is now clear they are very different! Now that we know moles aren’t found in Alberta at all, how can you know for sure if you have voles or gophers in your yard? Its actually quite simple! Check outside, if you see large dirt mounds or piles, this was caused by a pocket gopher. If you see squiggly lines/tracks in the lawn, and or small holes along patios and walkways, you’ve got voles!
Examples of Vole damage:
Example of Northern Pocket Gopher damage:
Despite their apparent similarities, pocket gophers, voles, and moles have unique traits and habits that distinguish them from each other. While moles are not found in Alberta, pocket gophers and voles each contribute to the biodiversity of the province in their own ways. These small mammals play a significant role in maintaining soil health and the balance of local ecosystems. However, despite their benefits to the ecosystem these small critters can become destructive to your yard and property if they invade certain areas. To be sure if the pocket gopher or vole activity isn’t destructive, call our expert technician team today!