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Identifying Moles, Voles and Shrews

What is the difference between a mole, a vole and a shrew?
Moles have large paddle-like forefeet used for digging.  Image by Michael David Hill, Wikimedia

Moles have large paddle-like forefeet used for digging. Image by Michael David Hill, Wikimedia

Good question. All three are small mammals that can be found in your yard. Moles and shrews belong to the order Insectivora and as the name suggests feed primarily on insects and invertebrates. Moles live underground and are specialized for life underground. Their small eyes and the openings of the ears are concealed in the fur, and there are no external ears. The most noticeable characteristic are the paddle-like forefeet which are bent sideways for digging. They feet have large claws for digging. The hind feet are small and narrow with slender, sharp claws. Mole fur is short, soft, velvety, and when brushed offers no resistance in either direction. This adaptation allows moles to travel both forward and backward through the soil.

Shrews hunt for insects above ground and in tunnels made by moles or voles. Shrews are much smaller than moles (3 to 4 inches in body length) and are mouse-like in appearance with a long, pointed snout, a short dense coat of fur, and small eyes. Shrews do not create surface tunnels but may feed in runways or tunnels of other small mammals. You can see how small a shrew really is.

Voles are rodents and are about the same size as moles (4 to 6 inches in body length) with relatively large black eyes, small ears, a blunt face, and prominent orange front teeth for gnawing. Meadow voles, the most common voles in Pennsylvania, are herbivores and eat a variety of grasses, seeds, and roots.

To learn more about moles, voles and shrews see Small Mammals

Contact Information

Margaret C. Brittingham
  • Professor of Wildlife Resources
Email:
Phone: 814-863-8442