Meadow Vole

Description: Color variable: from yellowish brown or reddish brown peppered with black, to blackish brown above; usually gray with silver-tipped hair below. Long tail dark above, paler below. Feet dark. L 5 1/2 –7 5/8" (140–195 mm); T 1 1/4–2 1/2" (33–64 mm); HF 3/4– 7/8" (18–24 mm); Wt 5/8–2 1/2 oz (20–70 g).

  • Endangered Status The Florida Salt Marsh Vole, a subspecies of the Meadow Vole, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Florida, where it is found in only one location, at Waccasassa Bay in Levy County. This single population, separated from the rest of the species after the last ice age, is very small, and extremely vulnerable to complete extinction. Climatic changes over time, and the resultant change in vegetation, are thought to have shrunk its range to its current extent. Nowadays storms, flooding, and human alteration to its habitat are the greatest threats facing it.
  • Similar Species Montane Vole, difficult to distinguish, is usually found in mountains. Prairie Vole is buff below, with shorter tail. Tundra Vole is yellower. Singing Vole has shorter tail, occurs above timberline. Yellow-cheeked and Rock voles have yellowish or orangish noses.
  • Breeding Several litters of 1–11 young produced from spring through fall in North, year-round in South; up to 13 litters have been produced in a single season; gestation 21 days.
  • Sign Grass cuttings, 1–1 1/2" (25–40 mm) long, in piles along runways in dense vegetation.
  • Nest: Found under objects (hay bales or boards) or in clumps of grass. Scat: Small, elongate fecal pellets, dark-colored. Tracks: In light snow, hindprint 5/8" (16 mm) long, with 5 toes printing; foreprint 1/2" (13 mm) long, with 4 toes printing; hindprints ahead of foreprints, with distance between individual walking prints 1/2 – 7/8" (13–22 mm); straddle approximately 1 1/2" (37 mm). Print patterns vary greatly, but most often show as alternating series of tracks very close together. Jumping distances between tracks range from 1 3/4 to 4 1/4" (45–110 mm).
  • Habitat Lush, grassy fields; also marshes, swamps, woodland glades, and mountaintops.
  • Range Alaska (except for northern portions) and Canada south and east to n Washington, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, n Missouri, n Illinois, Kentucky, ne Georgia, and South Carolina.
  • The Meadow Vole is active usually at night, occasionally during the day. It is less active during a full moon. The diet of this vole consists almost entirely of green vegetation and tubers, including many grasses, clover, and plantain. The animal produces grass cuttings as it reaches up and cuts off the stalk, pulls it down and cuts it again, until the seed heads are reached. The vole apparently consumes flowers, leaves, and all but the tough outer layer of the stalk, eating almost its own weight daily. The Meadow Vole constructs a system of surface runways and underground burrows. The spherical grass nest may be located in the burrows in summer or in a depression on the surface under matted vegetation; in winter, it is usually placed on the surface as long as there is snow cover for protection and insulation. A three- to four-year population cycle is well developed in this species. When alarmed, the Meadow Vole stamps its hindfeet like a rabbit. It uses vocalizations as a threat to other meadow voles. It is preyed on by house cats, foxes, coyotes, snakes, hawks, owls, and most other common predators; this widespread species is a mainstay in the diet of many carnivores. The Beach Vole, which is larger, more grizzled, and pale brown, is often considered a separate species (M. breweri), but is here considered an island subspecies of the Meadow Vole; it is the only vole found on Muskeget Island, Massachusetts.