Trails in Turfgrass
Timothy J. Gibb, Turfgrass Entomologist
Loven, Vertebrate Control Specialist, Purdue University
With the winter snows melting
away many are often surprised to find a series of tiny trails on
the surface of their lawns and turfgrass fields. These are
vole highways (Figure 1).
Voles are often called meadow mice or field mice
(Figure 2). While they are similar to a house mouse in general
size and shape, they have some important differences. Voles have small eyes and
ears, stocky bodies and short tails, when compared to other mice,
but even more important is that they very seldom invade homes. Rather,
they prefer to live in grassy fields or landscape beds.
Voles are herbivores. They eat seeds as well
as leaves and stems of grasses and sometimes other green vegetation
and occasionally, roots and bulbs. Often voles are attracted to,
and take up residence under bird feeders where the seed is scattered
and litters the ground. Removing
or limiting this food source will, in turn, limit the voles in that
area. Some have found that moving the bird feeders to areas
that are less susceptible to vole damage is the preferred approach.
Voles do not hibernate during the winter months. They are active even during
the winter and when snow is on the ground they are perfectly happy and actually
do very well under the protection of the snow cover chewing away on the turfgrass
When the snow retreats what is left is a series
of surface runways through turf areas (Figure 3). These measure
about 2 inches wide and sometimes many feet in length. The reality is that
even though these are an eye-sore now, they do not significantly
damage the turfgrass. With
the spring growth, these paths will fill in and the voles will soon
Even more damaging than the trails that they
make in turfgrass is the injury to other plants. Voles can seriously injure trees,
shrubs (and sometimes plastic irrigation lines) when they gnaw on
them. And gnawing is what rodents do best! Rodents, including
voles, seem to gnaw on everything, either for food or for fun
given enough time to gnaw on the base of a tree, voles may completely
girdle it, which will kill even a large tree.
If controls are required it is important to remember that voles are
a major food source of many vertebrates including birds of prey. Their
main protection from these predators is dense cover. An effective
way to manage voles is to reduce their cover. Mow tall grasses
in the fall so that they do not fall over and create vole habitat
during the winter. Trim trees and shrubs including low lying
plantings plants such as arborvitae, yews, junipers such that they
are up off the ground, if voles are active in the area. When possible,
use rock mulch rather than bark mulch in the flower gardens and beds
because this is much less favorable to voles.
Mouse snap traps, baited with peanut butter and placed in the vole
run, also can be used to control small, pesky, populations.
When major infestations have to be controlled
immediately, rodenticides may also be effective. Extreme caution must be exercised when
employing them. These are mostly formulated as baits to be
placed into burrow openings. Remember that other animals (including
dogs and cats) dig for and prey on voles and will become exposed
to baits if not used sparingly and properly. Always consult
state regulations and use all pesticides strictly in accordance with
Happy trails !!!