What on earth is a “vole”? Voles are rodents! For a rodent that is so widespread and capable of doing such extensive landscape damage, it is amazing that the name VOLE is still relatively unknown.
These sneaky little critters even manage to lay the blame for their destructive acts on moles! Even though similar in habit and about the same size, moles and voles are really very different. They have completely different diets. They also cause different types of damage in your landscape.
There’s no denying that voles look familiar — they are related to hamsters! When loose in your yard, these mouse-like critters can wreak havoc on your lawn and garden. They can do a LOT of damage to trees, lawns and plants. Voles are one of the rodents whose molars continue to grow during their entire life. Their constant nibbling keeps the teeth at a manageable length.
Often mistaken for a mouse, it is no wonder that the vole is commonly called a “field mouse” or “meadow mouse”. In fact, although related to mice, they have smaller ears, shorter tails and legs, a blunt nose and stocky bodies. The exact size and shape varies depending on which of the 100+ species you are dealing with, as will the habitat in which they may be found. There are prairie voles, meadow voles, water voles, mountain voles, tundra voles, and other types specific only to certain states.
The meadow vole and the pine vole are the most common voles in Tennessee. Pine voles spend most of their lives under the ground in burrows feeding on plant roots. You are more likely to see signs of voles than the voles themselves. You may spot one scurrying from one planting bed to another. These mouse-like rodents love to eat roots of lawn grass, trees and shrubs, flower bulbs and your favorite hostas!
Depending on the environment, voles are normally found in areas of dense vegetation. They dig short, shallow burrows and make underground nests of grass, stems and leaves. Several adults and young can occupy a single burrow system. Voles are classified as non-game mammals and are protected. However, they can be controlled when causing damage.
At first glance, a vole might look like mouse. The average vole is roughly four to eight inches long and has lush brown or gray fur. Weighing in at only a couple of ounces, its lightweight body allows it to move fast for its size, reaching a speed of six miles per hour. To satisfy its high metabolism, a vole consumes up to its own weight in food daily!
Voles are small, chunky, ground-dwelling rodents. Mature male voles are 5 to 7 inches long and have stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Adults are chestnut-brown mixed with black. The underfur is generally dense and covered with thicker, longer guard hairs.
Voles are frequently mistaken for moles, shrews and mice. Moles have greatly enlarged front feet, with prominent digging claws. Shrews are smaller than voles, and have long, pointed snouts and pointed front teeth. Voles have rounded, blunt snouts, and their front teeth are chisel-shaped. The distinction between voles and mice is less obvious. The best way to distinguish them is by tail length. Mice have long tails that extend nearly half their body length, whereas voles have short tails.
Voles can breed any time of the year, but the peak breeding period is Spring. They are extremely prolific, with females maturing in 35 to 40 days and having 5 to 10 litters per year. Litter size ranges from 3 to 6 young. Babies are born hairless, but are weaned and on their own in less than three weeks! The young have it rough, though, as only 10% typically survive past their first week. The average life span of a vole is three to six months. Voles are among the shortest-lived rodents. Their place in the food chain probably has something to do with this!
adults and young can occupy a burrow system. The size of the burrow
system and foraging area varies with habitat quality, food supply and
population levels. In most cases, it is no more than a few hundred
Voles are active day and night, but most activity occurs at dawn and dusk. These tiny rodents dart through runways and back to the nest, each foray lasting only a few minutes. That is why you rarely see the vole itself!
Proper identification of these unwanted varmints is critical to control. Identification must be based on the signs and damage they do in your landscape. Key indicators for voles are donut shaped mounds of soil. Well-defined, visible runways about 2” wide, at or near the surface, indicate voles.
You can’t miss vole runways on top of the soil. They are narrow trails of dead grass clipped close to the ground. Voles also create burrow systems underground. As you walk around your yard, you may see small mounds of dirt indicating burrow openings. If your lawn is pock-marked with tiny dirt mounds and trails that look like dried-up creek beds, it’s time to take action.
Voles are attracted to yards and gardens by food sources and places to hide. They don’t like to feed out in the open. One of the easiest ways to control their numbers is through habitat modification. A vole pest problem is most likely to arise in yards where voles have abundant sources of vegetation and debris to hide under and build nests. If you keep your garden weeded, avoid planting dense ground covers, keep the lawn mowed, keep mulch light around trees and shrubs, you’re less likely to have to worry about voles.
Voles dislike crossing sharp gravel. When planting perennials or bulbs, add a gritty substance, such as sharp gravel at planting time to protect the roots and bulbs. Plant garlic in your bulb and perennial beds to help get rid of voles. They hate the scent of garlic!
So if your landscaping is already damaged by voles and preventive measures have failed, call the experts at Apex Wildlife Control! We're here to help!