You probably know many of Will County’s resident rodents. We have beavers, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, and woodchucks. But one of our little rodents is less known, and that is the vole.
We have prairie voles and meadow voles.
These two species of vole look very similar to each other. They have short noses, tiny rounded ears, stocky bodies and short tails. They have greyish brown to dark brown fur on their backs and sides, and a lighter color on their bellies. Full grown they are 4.5 – 7 inches long.
A Healthy Diet
Voles can be found in prairies, pastures and abandoned fields. Their favorite foods are stems, leaves, roots and seeds from grasses, grass-like plants, and flowers. They will also eat insects and carrion (dead things). Usually, they eat food where they find it and do not bring a stash back to their homes.
Voles are active all year long, but the time of day they are active can change with the season. During hot summer months they are mostly nocturnal. While in the winter they are most active early morning. Even when they are active, they try to stay unseen. They live in underground burrows, and they create runways under grasses to connect their burrows to feeding sites. They will also build tunnels through the blankets of snow. As the snow melts, you can see evidence of their runways.
Short Lives, Much offspring
The average life span of a vole is one year or less. So they have a rapid childhood and are ready to start a family when they are only three weeks old. Can you imagine!? Prairie voles may breed several times a year with 3-4 pups per litter. Meadow voles can produce up to 8 litters in one year with 4-6 pups in each. Both the mother and father help to care for the young.
A Tasty Morsel
It is a good thing voles reproduce so often. Their plump juicy size makes them the perfect catch for many predators. Eating a vole can be more of a meal than a snack. They are preyed on by hawks, owls, fox, coyote, snakes, and weasels. Little shrews will also eat baby nesting vole pups.
Although voles are rarely seen they are a necessary part of the habitats they live in. They are an important part of many predators’ diet. They help bring air underground with their burrows. And their scat (solid waste) is a natural fertilizer. So next time you walk through a prairie or open field, remember a cute little vole may be hidden nearby.