Voles are tiny creatures that are classified as mammals. Along with certain species of other tiny mouse-like creatures, and lemmings, they belong to the subfamily Arvicolinae and the family Cricetidae. Voles are alternatively also known as meadow mice. There are over 100 different types of vole species. They have a tail shorter than their body, a blunt muzzle, and small ears and eyes.  

What do they look like?

Voles are tiny and round. Adult voles can grow up to 5 to 7 inches long. They have bodies that one may describe as being ‘storky’. Their legs and tails are very short. Their coloring varies, but generally, adult voles have fur that is colored in a chest-brown shade. Vole’s ears are also round and small, and oftentimes they are hidden behind their fur. The fur in general tends to be a brown or grey color. It is not dark brown, but light. They have tiny eyes as well as short tails. Voles are small, chunky, ground-dwelling rodents. Mature voles are 5 to 7 inches long and have stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Adults are chestnut-brown mixed with black, and their underparts are dark gray. They have fur on their undersides as well, which is quite dense and is covered with comparatively longer hairs, Voles have brownish feet which fade into gray underneath. The thin hair that covers their tails is dark on the upper surface, gradually changing to a lighter gray beneath. Young voles are entirely gray in color. 

What are the common types of voles?

Some common types or species of voles that are found in America are woodland voles, meadow voles, water, and prairie voles. They all have some features that are common as well. Voles have a habit of burrowing underground and their diets, at least the diet of the aforementioned species, are plant-based. Voles can damage people’s gardens, lawns, as well as crops because of their burrowing and eating habits. This is why they are considered as pests. 

On the Eastern side of America, there are a lot of meadow voles. Meadow voles are the most common species in North America. Their homes tend to be in areas with grassy lawns, open woodlands, and damp areas, for example, marshes. Woodland voles also like the same types of areas as meadow voles. Woodland voles, however, prefer areas in forests where the ground has a large amount of leaf litter. One of the smallest species of voles is woodland voles. 

On the other hand, some larger voles in North America include the water vole. It is actually one of the largest species in North America. It grows up to 8 to 9 inches and is an expert at swimming. Water voles live in areas that are close to streams and in alpine meadows in the Northwestern parts of America. 

Another type of vole, known as the prairie vole, is common in central America.  It is a species that mates for life. It lives in grasslands plus open prairies. The types of grassland just need to be open, such as golf courses, fields, and pastures. 

Where do they live?

 Different species of voles live in different areas depending on their preferences. They can opt for high mountains or live at sea level or at any elevation in between. 

Voles live in places ranging from Alaska to Mexico and Guatemala, the British Isles, Europe, China, Taiwan, Japan, and the coast of Libya. The kind of habitats they prefer are also very diverse, ranging from alpine meadows, prairies, tundras empty of trees, semi-deserts, and different types of forests as well. The forests include coniferous, cloud, and deciduous forests. 

What is the difference between voles, moles, and other small creatures?

Voles and moles, being tiny, tunneling creatures, tend to get mixed up with each other. Voles also get confused with shrews and mice. However, they are nowhere near the same! Voles look much more like mice than moles do, plus their coloring, the shape of their bodies, and even eating habits are different from each other.  In appearance, voles, moles, and shrews have some key distinguishing features. Moles have bodies that are cylindrical in shape. They have snouts that are pointed and tiny. Their eyes and ears are almost invisible, and they have large feet on the front limbs shaped almost like hands. They are black, brown, grey, cream, or piebald colored.  As mentioned before, voles, on the other hand,  have a body that is very rounded and similarly tiny ears and eyes. Their coloring is reddish or black and brown with an underside that is gray. Shrews are also different from both of these creatures. They have snouts that are pointed, similar to the moles. However, they don’t have large front feet. Their eyes are usually visible, unlike the other two. Voles are also different from both moles and shrews in that they do not have a pointed snout. In fact, they have blunt snouts. Voles also have chisel-shaped front teeth. When it comes to being able to distinguish voles from mice, you might have some difficulty, since they look so much alike. However, the main thing to look out for is their tail length. A long-tail length means that the creature is a mouse and a tiny tail means that it is a vole. 

What do they eat?

Voles are mainly plant-eaters. They eat many different types of plants. They often eat forbs as well as grasses. Their diet consists of plants and can vary a little as the seasons change and different types of plants become available. For example, as summer starts to wane, voles will start to store certain foods, such as seeds, rhizomes, bulbs, and tubers. As the autumn season starts they can feed on these stored items as well as, occasionally, bark. They also eat bark in the winter sometimes. 

Voles eat a wide variety of plants, most frequently grasses and forbs. In late summer and fall, they store seeds, tubers, bulbs, and rhizomes. Voles also consume grain crops. A lot of times they like to consume grain crops when they are large in number. Sometimes, rarely, they will eat animal remains and snails, along with some insects too.  

What is their lifestyle?

Voles, unlike moles, are not nocturnal. They also do not have a specific season in which they are active or one in which they hibernate. Instead, they are active throughout the year. They are most active in the early morning around dawn, and at dusk. However, they do remain active throughout the rest of the day too, these are just the peak time periods. Usually, voles make a home that does not extend beyond a rage of one four of an acre. However, this depends on the species, population, how dense the population is, and the amount of food available. 

Voles make tunnels and little runways on the surface as well. They make a network of tunnels underground and sometimes use the ones left behind by other creatures such as moles. These tunnels help them stay protected and provide them with shelter. They make many entrances for their burrows. One system of vole burrows can house many adults and young voles too. When voles make nests, they are made out of dry grass in a globular shape. Vole nests have a diameter of 6 to 8 inches and have cavities that are mostly above ground or under some kind of a cover, such as old boards or sheets of thrown away metal or wood. In the winter season, voles make temporary nests deep in the snow aboveground. Once the ice melts, they empty them out.

How do they reproduce?

They are not very long-lasting creatures. They only stay alive for about a year. Female voles mature in about 40 to 45 days and can give birth to many litters in a single year. They mate throughout the year, though they reproduce the most during the spring and summer season. Females are capable of giving birth up to 12 times a year, with a gestation period of 21 days. They usually have 5 to 6 litters a year. Each litter usually has 3 to 6 young voles, though it can have up to 11 as well. After the voles are born, they are weaned until they are 21 days old. Voles are some of the quickest to breed creatures. That being said, their population can fluctuate over the years. Their population peaks in unpredictable cycles that depend on the characteristics of their environment. These include food, stress, genetics, and climate. However, the general time period for a cycle can be between 2 to 5 years. The lifespan of voles is very short, usually just 12 months. 

Do voles bite?

Voles have teeth and can bite. That being mentioned, it is not likely for a vole to bite people. They can also carry diseases like rabies. However, there has never been a recorded case of a vole biting a human and giving them any disease like rabies. 

Are voles harmful to humans?

While voles are not going to attack you directly or harm you by biting you, they can still harm human beings. They can bring in parasites like fleas, lice, and ticks into your yards and even pass them onto any animals that you might have. If voles make a home of someone’s yard or fields, they can seriously damage the plants there. Trees, crops, and ornamental plants are in danger from voles. If you have invested in your garden, lawn, or even agricultural crops, you should be beware of voles and take preventative measures against them, as well as moles and any such creature. 

How to tell if you have a vole infestation?  

Signs of a vole infestation tend to be pretty obvious. They damage a lot of plants and create tunnels underground and runways on the surface too. There would be dead patches of plants in areas of the garden, some plants and trees would be chewed on. There would be various piles of dirt that they’ve dug up. When voles make their extensive tunnels, they damage the roots of the plants. Woodland voles eat the small roots and chew on tree bark, which damages the plants. Meadow voles make runways in the snow which are visible once it has melted and look ugly. They ruin the beauty of a garden or a lawn. They eat grain crops. 

The most obvious sign of a vole infestation is a runway system which also has burrow openings. Basically, lots of little pathways are created on the floor surface along with small holes that act as entrances for the voles. The voles travel often on the runways, so the vegetation on them tends to be ruined or smushed. They don’t let there be any obstructions in their way, so the runways are clear. They are about one and a half inches wide. However, they aren’t something all voles make. Woodland voles, for example, aren’t one for surface runways. Instead, they make a network of many tunnels underground. The tunnel-digging process makes them throw dirt onto the surface. It collects in mounds. These piles of dirt are also something to look out for when trying to determine whether you have a vole infestation or not. 

Vole droppings, which are shaped like rice grain and are green or brown in color, on the surface runways can also be seen. They are practically a confirmation for an infestation. The vegetation would get cut by the voles trying to feed on it or create a clear path for themselves. If the little runways are obstructed, have new plants growing over them, that means that they are no longer in use. 

Sometimes, meadow voles will travel to an area they normally wouldn’t go to, under the cover of the snow. Once the snow has melted, the voles sometimes leave that area, leaving behind tracks of runways. These get discovered by people later onwards once they are actually visible after the snowy season has ended. In such a case, if the voles have left, the lawn can recover quickly. 

Many different types of animals feed on, chew, or scratch tree bark, especially in the winter when there isn’t any other food source available. If you have marks on your trees don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there is a vole infestation. There might simply be an eager rabbit or other creature. Vole marks are different from how other animals damage the tree bark. The gnaw marks are not uniform. They are uneven and occur in patches, at different types of angles. They are also relatively small, about half an inch wide, 1/16th of an inch deep, and 3/8th of an inch long. Rabbit markings tend to be bigger than these and much more even and neat. They cut branches at oblique angles.

It can be hard to identify a vole infestation, especially if there are woodland voles since they mostly stay underground. Hence, a lot of the damage they do is also hidden below the surface. A way to try and identify it is by the look of the lawn plants. They would grow more slowly, have a sickly pale, yellow color, etc. 

How to get rid of a vole infestation?

First off try to apply some damage control techniques to make sure that you can salvage some of the plants. Such as:

  • Barriers to their favorite spots

By using various methods to guard trees and certain plants, you can try to ward off the voles. You can opt for wire guards. Use them to protect trees and shrubs. Wire cylinders can also be used which are just up to 24 inches to protect the tree trunks from being eaten or scratched by the voles. Bury them a few inches deep into the ground, about 6 inches. This will help create a barrier for the voles trying to burrow their way to the plant or tree’s roots. You can use wire cylinders on small plants as well in order to keep them protected. Try to restrict the vole’s access to plant roots etc, which are their main sources of food this will deter them from wanting to stay in your lawn. Get rid of weeds, litter, and any cover on the ground to discourage their activity. Make sure to mow the lawn regularly. Remove all available cover for voles, including the mulch around the bases of trees. Do this for at least 2 feet around the tree. Apply some herbicides and place some gravel or stones around the tree trunks at a height of up to 4 inches. This will help make sure they have less protection on the surface as well as little access to food. While this might not work immediately, it’s going to help deter them in the long run. 

Using vole repellents

Certain repellants can be used to get rid of voles, however, they are not the most effective method and might not work alone. Make sure that when applying repellents, follow the instructions carefully. Try not to let the voles fall into a habit or pattern of feeding when the repellents wear off. To do this, apply them before there is significant damage. Keep applying the repellents frequently when there is wet weather or new plants are growing.

Baits and Toxicants

There are a couple of different types of baits that can be used on voles. Some of them are slow to work, like anticoagulants. They need to be ingested by the voles multiple times as well. Place them near the entrances to the burrows or along with the areas where the voles like to feed. When it comes to toxicants, while they can be effective, they can also be dangerous if not used correctly. They can hurt other wildlife as well as small children. So only an expert should be handling them.

Trap them and let them go

This is not a very effective way to get rid of a large population. One can argue that it is a very humane method of getting rid of the voles, but it would be very time-consuming. The bait can be a mixture of peanut butter and oatmeal or even fruit slices like apples. Place the baits near the burrows and near ornamental plants, and then wait. You can use the same type of traps you might use for catching house mice.

Hire Professional Help

Ultimately, if you have been unsuccessful in dealing with your vole infestation, or just want them gone quickly, a pest control service is your best bet. They are well experienced and have a lot of knowledge. Hire an exterminator or pest control service for a quick and long-lasting fix. 

How to prevent a vole infestation?

Make sure your lawn has certain plants that voles dislike. If you know your area is prone to voles, get some wire fences and cylinders for your plants. Ensure the floor of your lawn is clear of long grass, mulch, or any kind of litter. Mow and weed it regularly. All of this will help discourage voles from trying to invade your lawn or garden. Good luck!

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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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