You may have recently noticed holes appearing throughout your backyard or near your workplace and wondered whether a gopher or mole is causing the damage.

While it can be challenging to tell if you have moles or gophers at first, there are a few telltale ways to distinguish them based on their appearance, diet and behavior, as well as the mounds they make and the damage they create. 

Difference Between Gophers and Moles in Appearance 

Moles are about 6 to 8 inches long and belong to the shrew family. These mammals have long claws, paddle-like forefeet, pointed snouts and cylindrical bodies. Moles have tiny eyes and soft fur that varies in color from gray to brown. Their fur texture helps them back up through a tunnel without soil becoming trapped in their coats.

Gophers, also known as pocket gophers, are a bit bigger than moles — they average about 12 inches — and have fur-lined pouches external to their mouths. Gophers have whiskers, strong forefeet with long claws for digging, short necks and four large incisor teeth that are always exposed. These medium-sized rodents vary in color, have small ears and eyes, and have tails to help them maneuver through their tunnels. 

Other features of gophers include:

  • Protruding cheeks
  • Large, fur-lined, reversible pouches
  • Short, hairy tails
  • Front paws with claws
  • Sensitive whiskers
  • Brown-colored fur

Diet

Moles are considered insectivores, meaning they eat insects. However, certain mole species, such as the star-nosed mole, eat aquatic invertebrates and fish. 

Gophers are primarily interested in eating a plant’s tubers and roots and will sometimes eat the tops of plants. Because gophers mostly eat vegetation, they are considered herbivores. A gopher will usually snag its meals by poking out of a feed hole to grab the top of a nearby plant. Then, they’ll pull the entirety of the plant into their den, nibble off some vegetation and disappear again. 

Gophers have been labeled as nuisances in agricultural lands due to their love of plants and vegetables. Their diet consists of:

  • Worms
  • Grub
  • Roots
  • Shrubs
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes

Behavior, Living Areas, Breeding Season and More

Moles live most of their lives underground and are in a constant search for food. These creatures are nearly blind and solitary, with males and females coming together mostly to breed. Male moles burrow through foreign territory in search of a mate as breeding season approaches. Breeding season starts in February and can last, in some cases, until May. Baby moles are born in litters of two to five and stay with their parents for approximately 30 days before venturing out on their own.

Moles build various tunnels and typically make their homes beneath sheds, patios, sidewalks and any solid structure. These creatures build surface tunnels as traps for earthworms, and a series of deeper tunnels for living and feeding spaces. While moles do not feed on plant material, their hills, tunnels and digging activity often result in the death of surrounding plants.

Gophers burrow near the surface of the earth and are most active in the spring and fall. These creatures seek out muddy, soft soil and edible plants. Because gophers are more comfortable being alone and territorial, each of them stays in their own burrow. Most species breed around spring and summer. 

Newborn gophers are weak and blind and need at least a 40-day weaning period. They stay with their mothers until they can build tunnels and usually live anywhere from one to three years. Some gopher species can live five to seven years in the wild. Often, gophers are preyed on by predators like weasels, snakes and hawks before reaching their full lifespan. 

How to Distinguish Mole Mounds and Gopher Mounds

Moles leave two types of identifying marks in the ground, mounds and runways. Mounds are the mammals’ long-term solution for access to a food source. These tunnels are much deeper than runways and are continually monitored for potential food. The mounds are relatively uniform in shape, notorious for killing grass and appear in conical shapes on the ground’s surface. 

As for runways, you can identify these markings by their appearance on your lawn’s surface. They look like small ridges and will feel soft and spongy when walked upon. If you have a mole runway in your yard, you won’t be able to see an open hole to the surface. 

Stepping on a mole runway will help you determine if it’s active. Make sure your foot covers the entire length of the mound and then leave it for a day. You will know the runway is inactive if it remains flat. If it has reopened and become tunnel-like and rounded again, it is active.

Alternatively, you may be looking at a gopher infestation if you notice a number of fan-shaped mounds in your yard. Gophers force dirt to the surface and out of their tunnels when they dig tunnels, which creates small mounds on the ground’s surface. Gopher mounds are typically deeper and larger than mole mounds and can reach up to six feet. However, the tunnels are generally less extensive than mole mounds. 

You can identify a gopher’s den from the following behavior and signs:

  • Gophers usually dig where the soil is moist.
  • Entry to gopher burrows is found in different areas of the garden, lawn and even agricultural properties. 
  • Gophers will leave home at any sign of a threat, but they usually come back to their den or build another one. 
  • When a gopher’s sense of solitude and safety is compromised, they can use their sharp teeth to attack.

Damage From Moles and Gophers

Moles are notorious for causing damage to different areas of your lawn, including gardens, tree roots, flower beds and grass. These mammals can tunnel up to one foot per minute, so they have the potential to cause a lot of damage to your yard or garden. 

Gophers are larger than moles and therefore cause more damage. Gophers have a reputation for wreaking havoc on underground irrigation systems, sprinkler systems and underground utility cables. 

Contact Urban Jungle for Removal and Exclusion Services 

Wondering how to get rid of gophers and moles, now that you know how to distinguish them? Urban Jungle is a fully licensed and insured wildlife evacuation company committed to removing nuisance animals like moles and gophers from local businesses and universities throughout Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

We ensure our wildlife management services are effective and safe for the environment by staying updated on all local, state and federal laws. If you’re looking to remove a gopher or mole from your property, you can count on our team of wildlife biologists for strong communication and frequent updates, from our initial arrival through job completion. 

Learn more about Urban Jungle Wildlife Removal’s trapping and removal services and reach out today