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Vole Evidence of Intrusion

Vole evidence of intrusion should be easy to recognize. The ways to determine if voles are intruding onto your property, and perhaps the cause of some problems in your landscaping, are numerous. Read through the following techniques to help you recognize some widespread types of evidence of intrusion.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion- Runways

Mice use the same pathways for traveling from their nests to food sources. Because of this, the pathways can be worn into your lawn and landscaping. These are especially noticeable when populations are high. Look for vole trails in heavily grassed areas. The pathways themselves are one (1) to two (2) inches wide and will lead to many small entrance holes to their underground burrows.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion- Gnaw Marks

To keep their ever growing incisors in check, not to mention their ravenous appetite, they spend a good part of their active time chewing on vegetation, shrubs and trees. Gnaw marks left by the voles are evidenced in many ways. On trees, look for these signs of evidence of intrusion from late fall through early spring. In areas where the pine vole is common you have to dig several inches below the soil line to see if the gnaw marks come from below ground. Look for individual tooth marks that are 3/8 of an inch long and 1/16 of an inch wide. These marks are often in irregular patches and angles. Where there is snow present the gnaw marks may show evidence as high as twelve (12) inches up from ground level.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion- Tracks

Look for vole tracks in very wet or fine soils or in light snow. The prints will be small, only ½ inch in from heel to toe with the hind print presenting with five (5) toes and the fore print with four (4) toes. Like many mammals, the hind prints will show ahead of the fore prints, with some distance between individual walking prints. Print patterns vary greatly, but most often show as alternating series of tracks very close together. The tracks below are from the meadow vole.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

Vole scat, feces, excrement or whatever term you prefer to use is a very good sign of vole activity. Look into the vole runways for very small, dark colored scat. It will most likely be one quarter inch to three-quarters of an inch long with tapered ends. The photo below illustrates the scat of the California Vole. Scat visible in the vole runways is evidence of potentially high population of voles in your yard.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion-Nests

Voles normally make their nests underground, however, occasionally, when nests are above ground they can be used to determine when voles have decided to take up residence in your yard or gardens. Vole nests are globed shaped and measure six (6) to eight (8) inches in diameter. Look for nests under planters and rock piles. They will be made of dried grasses and weeds.

Vole Evidence of Intrusion-Entrance Holes

Voles prefer to live underground; as such you may be able to locate entrance holes to their underground burrows as evidence of their presence. Entrance holes are small. Look for small holes along the runways measuring one (1) to two (2) inches in diameter.

Voles are quite secretive. They spend their time either in their underground homes or traveling a well covered above ground pathway system. This can make determining if you have a vole problem slightly problematic. The techniques above have been gathered to assist you in discovering vole evidence of intrusion.

Vole Interesting Facts

Vole interesting facts are plentiful, not quite as plentiful as they animal may be during a peak year, but plentiful, nonetheless. In this section some of the more interesting facts about voles are highlighted.

  • Female voles are quite the little scrappers! Some species stomp their hind feet and chatter their teeth to let an enemy know that they are not messing around. If that doesn’t work they may break into street fighting mode and box and/or wrestle a would-be threat to the finish.
  • Males, on the other hand, are not quite as defensive and do not defend territories, opting instead to avoid and retreat.
  • Males with fight each other, however, over a female who is ready to mate.
  • Voles are much more accommodating when they are not breeding and may live together with as many as seven (7) other males.
  • The fact that voles can swim is quite interesting. Not only can they swim but they can dive, too! This, however, opens them up for underwater predators including bass, musky and the northern pike.
  • One way to determine if you have voles living on your property is to cut an apple in half and place next to a tree trunk. Wait for a day or two (2) and take a look for gnaw marks. On a larger scale orchard owners use this method to determine the percentage of trees that will be damaged by the voles!
  • They don’t call the vole transportation routes runways for nothing! Voles are quick. They can sprint through those runways at speeds up to six (6) miles per hour.
  • The genus for the vole species in North America, Microtus, means “small ear”.
  • Vole populations are cyclical and during peak years populations up 250 voles may live on a single acre.
    Voles can reproduce year long but prefer to mate in the spring and fall.
  • Females gestate for about 21 days giving birth to anywhere between one (1) and twelve (12) young.
  • Voles can give birth up to 12 litters in one (1) year!
  • Female voles are physically ready to reproduce at the tender age of three (3) weeks old.
  • Nearly 90% of the young die during their first week.
  • The vole lifespan is limited only one and a half (1 ½) years old.
  • Vole populations are cyclic depending on the environment and climate conditions. In North America vole populations will peak every four (4) years according to experts which can lead to population densities as high as 250 per acre.
  • There are three (3) species of voles that are arboreal and spend their time both above ground, in the trees, and foraging on ground level, too!

From their reproductive prowess, to their ability to swim and dive, the vole is considered to be one of the most interesting rodents in North America. These traits combine with the others mentioned have led to quite a few vole interesting facts.

Vole Diet

Vole diet consists of a great many green plants. As herbivores, they also enjoy nibbling on trees, shrubs, roots, and bulbs. This makes the vole diet a bit of a sore spot for many home gardeners and agriculturalists alike. While they have been known to occasionally eat small insects, the majority of this mammal’s diet is plant based with the ability to consume quantities equal to their body weight on a daily basis.

Vole Diet-Food

The diet of the voles is wide ranging. Specific favorites in the wild will include tree bark and grasses, sedges and flowering plants, roots and tubers. In your yard, garden or fields, their ravenous appetite will drive them to consume a great variety of vegetable garden staples including tomatoes and cauliflower, beets and artichokes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and carrots.

Tree favorites are avocado, almond and olive; orange, lemon, lime, cherries and apples. These little mammals with consume both the bark and fruits of these trees. This allows for the rodent to snack on fruit trees year round.

Flower beds are not safe from the “meadow mice” either. They will become a regular stop along the vole’s daily foraging activities if they contain some of their favorites like lilies and dicondra.

Vole Diet-Physical Attributes

Physically, the vole is made for the constant feeding that must be done to alleviate their insatiable appetite.

All family members of the classification rodent have incisors that are every growing. They do not stop! With those rodent incisors, they really have no choice but to eat, eat again, and eat some more. This also allows for the vole to have a never ending set of teeth to partake in the tree bark and woody shrub twigs that are so much a part of their diet during the winter months.

The vole’s course, neutral colored fur is quite a help in their never ending quest to quell this natural urge to eat. The fur blends in with the vegetation during the summer and the snow covered ground in the winter allowing for safer treks to their favorite vegetable garden or avocado tree.

Vole Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem
The diet of the vole is not the most revered by humans or the trees that they feed on. Large populations of voles can cause considerable damage to agricultural crops during the growing season. But perhaps the single most detrimental effect of their diet to humans and the ecosystem is their affinity for tree bark.

Because bark can be eaten year round trees can experience significant damage from vole populations. The process of eating the bark can actually cut the supply of nutrients obtained by the tree roots from reaching the top of the tree. This is called girdling and can cause the death of the tree.

Another potential detriment to humans is the behavior of making runways to get to and from their nests and food. These runways do not cause permanent damage but may make any well kept lawn appear a little haggard.

With an appetite for plants, voles will partake in a variety of green plants and woody shrubs. In fact, it is easy to see how just about everything in our yards, gardens and landscaping will fit rather nicely into the vole diet.

Vole Habitat

Vole habitat can be a wide variety of climates and flora. The meadow vole has a preference for areas with heavy cover. Heavily grassed areas such as meadows or edge habitat make excellent vole habitat as well. Some voles are quite happy to live in orchards and cultivated fields. While others, still, would prefer to live in young forested areas. Pond banks, pastures and fence rows are quite popular as are lawns and gardens.

Vole Habitat-Range

Home ranges will vary between species but are normally quite small. The meadow vole will normally stay within 400 feet of their home. In the winter time their activity will not lead them much further than their underground vole habitat.

Vole Habitat-Nests

Vole habitat will include a cozy place to call home sweet home. Nests are normally in shallow burrows reaching only three (3) to four (4) inches below ground. Voles may also create nests above ground. These above ground nests are hidden from site and are curiously placed under objects such as rocks and flower planters. If they are living in wooded areas they will utilize the habitat and build nests under the cover of leaf litter.

Burrow entrances will measure about one and one-half (1 ½) inches in diameter.

Vole Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Voles are an important part of the diet of many predators. Predators of the vole include hawks, herons and other large birds, especially barn owls, fox, weasels, opossum, skunks, shrews and even bears and bass. Owls including barn, short-eared and northern harrier owls as so dependent upon voles in their diet that their success is intricately tied to the vole populations around them.

Unfortunately, voles can cause considerable economic damage to tree farms and considerable headaches for the home gardener. This is further discussed in the vole diet section.

Voles are creatures that spend most of their time hidden from view. Whether they are in their underground burrows or traveling through their above ground runways, you will be hard pressed to get a good visual in your yard, garden or landscaping of the vole.

Vole Behavior

Voles are quite content going about their business by sunshine or moonlight. Voles do not hibernate, but the seasons do play a role in the time of day chosen for activity. In the warmer weather they may favor the nighttime and, conversely, they will be more active during the day during the winter season.

The method by which the vole travels during its daily or nightly business is through a system of surface runways.

These interstates are usually about one and one-half (1 ½) inches wide. In the snow these lanes are almost invisible to predators and they can travel unnoticed and without fear. The majority of their day is spent traversing through these runways. Voles will typically make 15 to 20 trips along them. They are covered by snow in winter and vegetation in the summer. This is why voles are rarely seen. Voles normally make their homes underground, but may choose to hang their hat under a flower pot or a rock wall.

Family life is quite interesting for the vole species. They are quite the prolific bunch! Voles can reproduce year long but prefer to mate in the spring and fall. Females gestate for about 21 days giving birth to anywhere between one (1) and twelve (12) young. Voles can give birth up to 12 litters in one (1) year! To add fuel to this reproductive firestorm, female voles are physically ready to reproduce at the tender age of three (3) weeks old. That said, the reason we are not totally overrun with voles can be attributed, in part, to the fact that nearly 90% of the young die during their first week of life. Their lifespan is quite limited and voles normally survive to only one and a half (1 ½) years old. Vole populations are cyclic depending on the environment and climate conditions. In North America vole populations will peak every four (4) years according to experts which can lead to population densities as high as 250 per acre.

Watch out for those expectant mothers, they are very territorial and are considered one of nature’s best scrappers, too! Before things get too rough, although, they do try to scare potential predators away first by stamping their hind feet or squealing.

Vole Physical Appearance

Voles, no matter what species, are quite common in appearance. They are rather stocky in form, having short legs, a short tail and a dense little body. Voles have very small ears which barely protrude out of their fur. While voles are often confused with the house mouse, they are much larger. In fact, meadow voles are nearly 2/3’s larger than the house mouse. Depending on species they voles can vary in length from five (5) inches to eight and a half (8 ½) inches including their tails. One (1) sure way to tell them apart from the house mouse is the tail which on voles is fully furred.

While the fur of the vole will vary in color from black to brown to red it will always be very course with the bottom, or belly side, lighter in color. In winter the voles fur will turn much lighter changing to a grayish color with a duller sheen. The feet of the meadow voles will be darker than those of the montane vole species which are prevalent west of the Rocky Mountain range.

Vole Natural History

There are 62 species in the genus Microtus in the world with 23 vole species in the United States. The most common in North America is the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. Although sometimes referred to as a “meadow mouse” they are a separate and distinct animal from any mice species found in North America. There are three (3) species of voles that are arboreal and spend their time both above ground, in the trees, and foraging on ground level, too!


Scientific Name: Microtus pennsylvanicus Meadow Vole
Phylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae
Genus: Microtus
Species: Pennsylvanicus

Voles common to yards and gardens are curious animals with a close resemblance to other rodents common to North America. They are often confused with house mice and shrews, and on occasion even moles. Voles are the stocky version of house mice although much less known. This anonymity may be attributed to the fact that the vole is not normally a co- resident of man-made structures. However, they are common visitors to yards and gardens with an appetite voracity rivaling that of a NFL football player and a reproductive capacity that would make even the locusts jealous!