Wild Animals/Burrowing animal


Dear Jonathan,
I just wanted to ask a question about a trail of mounded dirt I found in my yard. It seemed to appear overnight and originated at a tree whole where a fruit tree was located but fell over. I have had three apple trees die on me over the last few years and the last one I noticed a few days after removing the tree that there was a dirt trail leading from this tree hole through my yard to another tree and then leading into a wood pile. I do have chickens too and wondered what kind of animal could this be? Do moles eat tree roots? And finally are my chickens endangered by this mystery digger? I do not want to kill what ever it is but wondered is there a humane way to discourage it from causing more damage to my other trees if you think that could be a possibility. Thanks for any help you can provide I really appreciate it. I live in Iowa in the United States, south eastern Iowa not to far from the Missouri boarder. Thank you so much and God bless.

Dear Kim

Thank you for your question. I also wish to thank the authors of the websites I used.

Douglas A. Spilker (http://statebystategardening.com/state.php/ia/articles/10_most_unwanted_pests_an) has written about common garden pests in Iowa. He says that moles make ridges or mounds of heaved-up soil that uproot garden plants and disrupt grass roots. This seems to correspond with your description of the trail of mounded dirt. Moles prefer to eat earthworms, grubs and ground beetles, so they will not eat tree roots or chickens. Kurt A. Johnson gives additional information (http://www.theiowagardener.com/moles_ISU_Ext_managing.html) and enables you to tell the difference between mounds produced by moles and pocket gophers. Mole hills appear volcano-like. Moles push dirt vertically from the burrow exit to form a symmetrical cone with no visible sign of an exit point. There is an exit point in the centre of the cone at ground level. Dirt excavated from a pocket gopher’s tunnel system is pushed from the burrow exit and deposited in a fanlike mound around the burrow exit, with the exit at the focus of the fan. The pocket gopher burrow exit is a visible plug of dirt.

http://www.garden.org/pestlibrary/animals.php?q=show&id=1801 says that gophers have strong digging claws and sharp teeth can cause a lot of damage to lawns and gardens. They feed on above- and below-ground portions of many plants, including roots and bulbs. They may gnaw bark from young trees in winter and chew plastic water lines when water is scarce. Their tunneling leaves mounds of soil pushed to one side and plugged shut; mole mounds are round and open. Their burrowing is deeper and not as obvious as mole tunnels.

If the mounds were not produced by moles or pocket gophers, please measure the mounds and tunnels and let me know what they are. I'll try and find an alternative animal for you.

All the best


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Jonathan Wright


I can answer questions about wild mammals and other animals, as well as extinct animals and zoos. I am not an expert about every animal species. I can look up information from books and the internet, but can't verify if all the information is true. Please don't ask questions about: 1. Pets. I am not a vet. Please contact a vet if your pet is ill. You may need to spend some money if you want your pet to live. Don't get a pet if you don't know how to look after it and if you can't provide it with the space, food and possible companions that will help it live a healthy life. Don't take animals from the wild, unless they are ill and/or injured and you can protect them until a wildlife charity can help. It is cruel to take animals from their parents, especially if the parents will look for the babies, while putting their other babies at risk. You may be breaking the law by keeping wild animals or you may need a licence to look after some species. Please check with a local wildlife group. 2. Eggs: Please don't remove eggs from nests. The mother birds provide the right temperature for the eggs and won't sit on them if the temperature is warm enough for them to develop naturally. It is illegal to remove eggs of some species and, unless you have an incubator or a broody hen, the egg may not develop. If you are allowed to touch the eggs, you can candle them to see if they are fertile. If theys aren't fertile, they won't hatch. 3. Fights: Please don't ask about fights between different animals. These questions assume that individuals of two species fight each time they meet and that one species will always be victorious over another. This is untrue. There are cases where a live mouse has been fed to a venomous snake, bitten the snake leading to the snake's demise. 4: Diseases: Please ask doctors or other medical experts about diseases that you may catch from animals. I can't advise on how to deal with viruses, bacteria etc.


I have a zoology degree and have been interested in animals since I was two. I am a zoo volunteer at London Zoo. I have appeared on a BBC Radio Quiz, 'Wildbrain'.

WWF. ZSL. Natural History Museum. RSPB. London Bat Group.

Newsletters of London Zoo volunteers and the London Bat Group

BSC degree in Zoology. 'A' level in Zoology. 'O' Level in Biology.

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