If you woke up one morning and your yard looked like a real-life version of whack-a-mole, you may have wanted to go out and do just that: whack a mole. But what if those little dirt mounds and tunnels weren’t made by moles? It could have also been the even more destructive gophers or ground squirrels.

Holes and Hills in Your Yard: How to Determine Which Critter is the Culprit

If this has happened to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and there are things you can do to determine which backyard troublemaker has been tearing up your lawn. Here’s how to know.

Is It Gophers?

Gophers, also known as pocket gophers, are round rodents with short brown fur that grow to about six to 10 inches long. They spent most of their time in the underground tunnels they create, live alone and have a voracious appetite for vegetation.

You can identify gophers by the distinctive crescent-shaped mounds with central holes that lead into their tunnel systems. When gophers burrow, they tunnel just beneath the surface, so raised ridges are observable above ground along the tunnels’ paths. Gopher burrows can cover an area of 200 up to 2,000 feet.

 Could It Be Moles?

 Moles behave similarly to gophers but are smaller at about 4 to 6 inches long, have a long hairless snout and powerful front claw that they use to create their tunnels. They also spend most of their time underground and live alone in their burrows. Moles eat insects they find underground, as opposed to vegetation.

Molehills differ from gopher mounds in their shape. They’re circular and volcano-shaped and their tunnels are about two inches in diameter and about a foot below the ground’s surface. They will also create temporary tunnels just below the surface with visible aboveground ridges, as they search for food.

 What About Ground Squirrels?

 There are squirrels that spend their days in trees, and there are flying squirrels, but if you see a brownish-grey squirrel foraging for food and then disappearing into an underground burrow, you’ve got ground squirrels.

Ground squirrels are nine to 11 inches long plus five to nine inches of tail. They live in large groups of up to a few dozen squirrels in one burrow and eat a variety of plant life, especially grains, seedlings and nuts.

Their burrows begin with a hole four inches across that leads to a series of tunnels two to four feet below ground and five to 30 feet long that usually have multiple entrances. Ground squirrels are most easily identified when foraging above ground during the day.

 What Can I Do About This?

 If you don’t like the idea of having critters tunnel around your yard, there are some techniques you can try to get rid of them. Gophers and squirrels may cause problems by destroying plants, as well as underground wires and pipes. All three burrowers can create unsightly holes, ridges and soft spots in your yard. Moles, though, are usually less destructive and can even help your soil by aerating it and improving irrigation.

If you want to get rid of gophers, moles or ground squirrels you can try placing a repellant in or near their burrows. Rodent smoke bombs or castor oil spray can chase away or kill the creatures. You could also try planting daffodils, marigolds or other plants they don’t like.

Alternatively, you could introduce predators to your property by constructing owl boxes or purchasing some non-venomous snakes. Be wary of this method, though, if you have small pets.

Another tactic involves placing a trap in or near a burrow. Some traps kill the critters, while others catch them alive, allowing you to relocate them.

Gophers, moles and ground squirrels are common troublemakers for homeowners and gardeners. They may all behave similarly, but there are ways to tell them apart based on the evidence they leave behind. And if they cause problems, there are also ways to stop them from digging up your prized garden or lawn.

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