Voles are small rodents native to North America, North Africa, Asia and Europe. They've adapted to a variety of habitats that include yards and gardens. They reproduce quickly and can be destructive in residential settings. Though they are similar to mice, voles have characteristics that make them distinct.
All of the approximately 70 species of voles have similar physical traits. Sturdy, rounded bodies, tiny ears and eyes, sharp incisor teeth and blunt noses are identifying characteristics. Voles have thick fur that ranges in shade from gray to brown. Like many of their cousin rodent species, voles have hairless tails.
Habitats and Habits
Voles are hardy rodents. Their preferred habitat is a grassy field or shrubby area, but they also subsist in rocky and wooded environments and in areas populated by humans. Voles have been known to live beneath yards and gardens and among crop fields where they can do damage to landscapes and plants. These little rodents are active all year, foraging on the surface of their habitats or working on underground tunnels and burrows among thick vegetation. Because voles don't hibernate, they depend on the company of other voles to keep warm in the winter months.
The diet of voles is very similar to that of their mice counterparts. Their diet is mainly vegetarian and consists of plants, tree bark, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Voles occasionally eat insects. Like many other rodents, voles often gather food and conceal it for later consumption. They also prefer to eat at night in hidden locations, such as in the cover of shrubbery or inside underground burrows.
Reproduction and Life Span
Like many other types of rodents, voles are rampant reproducers. The average female can produce up to 10 litters a year with five to 10 young per litter. The gestation period for voles is approximately three weeks, and mother voles nurse their young for only about four weeks. It is not uncommon for a nursing vole to already be pregnant before she has weaned a current litter. Though voles reproduce frequently, they do not have long life spans. They rarely reach 12 months of age, with the average vole living only three to six months.
Voles in Human Settings
The damage that voles can do in areas populated by humans is not endearing. Relentless chewers, these rodents destroy crops and kill trees by chewing leaves, stalks, bark and roots. They can also cause turf damage by digging and borrowing. A handful of environmentally safe ways to deter voles exist. Various repellents introduce offensive scents that make the small rodents go elsewhere. Fencing or barriers made of rock or gravel piles prevent voles from intruding on prohibited areas. When all else fails, live traps available through wildlife departments or pest control companies are means of relocating these gnawing varmints to safe areas where wildlife thrives.
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Jennifer Lynn has been writing as a correspondent and reporter since 1991. She has written for numerous newspapers and currently writes as a correspondent for Gannett. Lynn has a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on English from Ohio University, where she also studied journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.