Facts, Identification and Control
Voles, sometimes commonly called meadow mice, are small, ground-dwelling rodents that range from about 5-8 inches long with a body that is more robust than a mouse. They have relatively short legs and tails, and their body fur is brownish and black. The vole’s head is round shaped and the snout is blunt. Their tail has thin hair and is darker on the upper side than the lower side. The vole’s eyes are small and black and their ears are covered with fur. Since voles are often mistaken for mice, one of the best ways to differentiate these two rodents is by tail length. Mice have long tails that are equal to about half their body length, while voles have shorter tails that are less than half their body length
Behavior, Diet and Habits
Voles are active in both the day and night, and they will often have peak activity periods during dusk and dawn. Voles construct a system of burrows that are usually located on the ground surface, but are hidden and protected by a ground-level deck, storage building or pile of debris such as rocks, firewood or lumber. Voles also create serpentine-shaped surface tunnels that connect their burrows and feeding sites and appear to “snake” through the surface vegetation. Several mature and immature voles may inhabit one burrow system. Rather than build a burrow system, some vole species will use underground tunnels that were vacated by moles or other voles. Voles are preyed upon by owls, hawks, cats, snakes, raccoons and foxes, in part explaining why voles survive for only about 2 – 16 months.
Voles are usually found in grassy or weedy habitats with heavy ground cover. The rodents become a nuisance when they invade our landscaped lawns or gardens to feed on plants. Since voles will eat a variety of plants, they can also become pests in agricultural areas, orchards and plant nurseries. Occasionally voles may eat snails, insects and dead animal remains.
Voles can breed during any time of the year, but spring and summer are the most common seasons for breeding. A female vole will have 1-5 litters per year, each litter averaging about 3-6 babies. Females are able to reproduce at about 1-1 ½ months old.
Signs of a Vole Infestation
While the homeowner may see voles scurrying around during the day, the most obvious sign of a vole infestation is their surface runway system. An active surface runway will have small pieces of cut vegetation and also contain vole droppings. Tunnels without these signs indicate they no longer are in use.
Since voles are often mistaken for moles, shrews or mice, the prevention and control program for voles begins with an inspection by your pest management professional. After the inspection, your pest management professional will provide a plan for dealing with voles on your property. There are several methods that are important for controlling voles, so depending on the size of the vole population, the overall control plan may involve habitat modification, exclusion, trapping and using vole control products.