Backyard wildlife is always interesting to learn about, as it’s a great way to appreciate your local ecosystem from the comfort of your own home. As you go out into your lawn, you may notice small, or sometimes larger, holes, especially around the edge of your yard.
There are many species of animals that dig holes in yards, and oftentimes they’re perceived as pests and something to remove. However it’s important to remember that burrowing and digging animals are integral for soil health and a balanced ecosystem. This is a guide to the common animals that can cause holes in your yard and how to handle them when they appear.
9 animals that dig holes in yards
Skunks are a common perpetrator of holes in the yard throughout the United States. If you have skunks, you’ll most likely know from the distinctive musky smell they use to mark territory. Skunks get a bad reputation for this smell, but they can only actively spray something once every 10 days, and hydrogen peroxide will do the trick to get rid of it.
Skunks usually cause damage to lawns in search of insect larvae, and they do so with a very distinctive “rolling” of the sod to get underneath. The first step to getting rid of skunks is to get rid of the white grubs in the soil using county recommended chemicals. From there, the skunks will most likely leave your property as there’s no more food available.
The best way to prevent skunks from settling in underneath your porch or patio is to exclude them preemptively. This means adding a fence below the deck using hardware cloth and being sure to bury it a foot underground to prevent any rogue diggers.
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are another common culprit. Like many burrowing mammals, they dig in search of places of shelter. The most common places they’ll choose to burrow are around decks, storage sheds, and houses with crawl-spaces and can cause significant damage.
Another reason they’ll dig is, like the skunk, in search of food. They’re more likely to dig in vegetable gardens and places with higher vegetation, as they’re in search of fruits, seeds, and greens. The best way to prevent this is to install fences and take preventative measures where possible.
Once a mole invades a yard, it can cause considerable damage almost immediately as a voracious digger. A single mole is able to tunnel up to 18 feet per hour in suitable soil, and this can cause significant damage to roots and weaken the surface of lawns.
Identifying a mole infestation means looking for volcano-shaped mounds of soil with no entrance or exit holes that are pushed up from deep below the soil surface and raised ridges of soil running through the grass, usually in the shaded portions of the lawn.
Before you set out to eliminate the moles from your property, consider the benefits that moles provide to soil aeration and fertilization, as well as free pest control for the white grubs that also ruin lawns. Moles are also quite versatile, and after one is removed, it’s highly likely another will move in, leading to an ongoing removal process.
4. Pocket Gophers
Pocket Gopher infestations are commonly misread as moles, but it’s important to distinguish between the two. The Pocket Gopher is a species of conservation concern due to shrinking habitats, and only efforts to reduce or dissuade their presence on your yard should be considered.
Unlike the Mole, the Pocket Gopher is a strict herbivore and will frequently consume roots and bulbs they encounter while digging. Tunneling can occur at any time of year, but they’re most prevalent in the spring and fall. They can also be found nibbling on leaves and stems alongside boundaries, such as paths or the edge of the yard.
You can identify the tunnels by their large crescent or fan-shaped dirt mounds that contain a hole plugged with dirt that serves as an entrance and exit. This indicates the presence of intricate tunnels beneath the surface that can better irrigate the soil while decreasing surface water runoff.
Voles burrow during the Winter in order to stay warm, lining the tunnels with grasses from the previous fall in order to provide insulation and protection from predators. In the late summer and fall, they gather and store seeds, tubers, and bulbs in preparation for the snowy months.
Evidence of voles is most obvious in the early Spring once snow and frost cover disappears. Voles leave behind runways in the turf’s top 2-3 inches of soil. They’re around 1-2 inches in diameter and usually contain typical mouse feces.
You can reduce vole populations by regular mowing in order to reduce coverage for them, but this is only really recommended in areas of high vole populations that are actively causing issues. Voles are an integral part of the ecosystem, as they’re prey for many birds of prey, foxes, and other predators and populations are constantly in flux from season to season.
Raccoons are omnivorous, which explains why they thrive in close proximity to humans. They can be commonly found consuming fruits from gardens, rummaging through discarded food in dumpsters, and digging up insects in yards. This can make them a common pest to many communities, but there are many benefits to raccoons, such as pest control of other animals that can damage your lawn.
Prevention is key when working with raccoons, with precautions such as sealing the tops of garbage cans and trimming back tree branches around the roof and chimney, as these are common places raccoons would like to nest and raise their young.
Raccoons also play a large role in the local ecosystem, and it’s important to keep in mind that we were the ones who came into their habitat. Humans are the largest cause of raccoon mortalities, so if you have raccoons in your yard, do your best to live capture and release or call in a professional.
7. Digger Bees
This term encompasses a diverse group of small hairy or metallic bees that dig in the soil to nest, such as andrenid bees, halictid bees, and colletid bees. These are solitary bees and important native pollinators.
The female digs a cylindrical underground tunnel that acts as a nest where she reproduces, which is different from the more social honeybees, where only the queen reproduces. The female makes “bee-bread” that consists of a mixture of nectar and pollen collected from nearby flowering plants.
Coexistence rather than eradication is highly encouraged whenever possible because they have an important role as pollinators within their ecosystem. The threat of being stung by digger bees is highly overrated, and they’re more annoying to the homeowner than dangerous. Control is usually not necessary unless the bees are nesting especially close to human activity where they’re more likely to be disturbed.
Like most animals in the lawn, the earthworm is incredibly important and valuable to the overall health of the yard. Their burrowing activity improves the soil by increasing air and water movement while helping decompose thatch. They’re also an integral food source for many birds and burrowing mammals.
Earthworms do contribute to a rough and bumpy lawn that may be less than aesthetically pleasing, but this can be easily solved by reseeding your lawn with a local species that’s better suited to the site. This can be compounded by proper fertilization, mowing, and irrigation to create a lush lawn that’s only helped by the humble earthworm.
Wasps get a bad reputation, but they’re generally beneficial; nests that are out of the way should be left alone. Even if they’re close to human activity, solitary wasps that dig have the ability to sting, but won’t unless handled or threatened.
Stings from solitary wasps are usually not severe, but it does vary from individual to individual. Still, if a nest is located where problems could arise where the nest is routinely disturbed, such as under a deck or near an often used door, removal is justified.
Solitary wasps are especially helpful in keeping spider, cicada, and other insect populations down. Their stingers are mostly used to paralyze their prey and leave them in their burrows for their offspring. The insects are placed in the hole and a single egg is deposited before the female seals the plug, never to return. The wasp offspring feed on the paralyzed insects and develop into wasps that emerge the following summer.