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meadow vole

Microtus pennsylvanicus

What do they look like?

Meadow voles are small rodents can range from 128 to 195 mm in length with tail almost half as long as the body. Their backs are very dark brown to a reddish brown with long, coarse black hairs. Their bellies are grey or white. Males and females are the same size and color. As with all rodents, meadow voles have 2 pairs of incisors at the front of their mouth that are always growing.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    33.0 to 65.0 g
    1.16 to 2.29 oz
  • Average mass
    43.67 g
    1.54 oz
  • Range length
    128.0 to 195.0 mm
    5.04 to 7.68 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.428 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

Meadow voles are native to the Nearctic and the most widespread vole in North America. They are found all over Canada, into Alaska and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They occur as far south as Georgia and New Mexico.

What kind of habitat do they need?

As their name suggests, meadow voles live in meadows, fields, grassy marshes, and along rivers and lakes. They are also occasionally found in flooded marshes, high grasslands near water, and orchards.

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • temperate

How long do they live?

Meadow voles are short-lived, rarely living for longer than one year in the wild.

How do they behave?

Meadow voles are active any time of the day, but tend to be out more in the night during the summer and out more in the day during the winter. Females are territorial and will actively defend their territory. When more than one female lives within a territory, one is much larger than the others; these are probably a mother and her daughters. The mother seems to prevent these daughters from breeding by her presence.

During the cold winter months meadow voles will nest with other family members who are not reproducing. Meadow voles make extensive runways through vegetation where they deposit feces and food. They are good diggers and swimmers.

How do they communicate with each other?

Meadow voles have keen hearing and a good sense of smell. Vocalizations are primarily used in defensive situations.

What do they eat?

Meadow voles feed mainly on the fresh grass, meadow plants, and herbs that are found close to their shelter. They will also eat a variety of seeds and grains. From May until August they live on green plants. During the fall they switch to grains and seeds, and during the winter they often feed on the bark and roots of shrubs and small trees. When meadow voles live near cranberries, they feed extensively on these fruits. They also eat other types of fruit and will take insects occasionally. The meadow vole consume large amounts of food. They can eat close to 60% of their body weight. When eating, they sit up and may hold food with their front paws. They will also stand to gnaw bark or a grain stalk.

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Meadow voles are aggressive and will attack when cornered or captured. They take refuge from predators in their system of burrows and grass tunnels. Below is a list of some predators.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Especially because they are so abundant in the habitats where they are found, meadow voles have crucial ecosystem roles. Many predator species rely on voles to make up a significant portion of their diet, especially owls, small hawks and falcons. In addition, meadow voles consume large quantities of grass and recycle the nutrients held in the grass through their droppings. They also help to aerate and turn the soil through their digging activities.

Do they cause problems?

Large numbers of meadow voles can do considerable damage to growing grain and stored hay, they are also a problem in orchards and forests when they strip bark to eat in the winter.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Meadow voles destroy many weeds, especially weed grasses, and serve as food for some fur animals and other predators.

Are they endangered?

The meadow vole is very abundant and has no special conservation status.

Some more information...

Contributors

Tim Neuburger (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Jackson, H. H. T. 1961. Mammals of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison.

Maser, C. and R. M. Storm. 1970. A Key to Microtinae of the Pacific Northwest. O.S.U. Bookstores Inc.: Corvallis, Oregon.

Wolf, J. O. 1985. Behavior. In Biology of New World Microtus. R. H. Tamerin ed. The American Society of Mammalogists. Special Publication 8.

"Animal Life Histories Database" (On-line).

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Neuburger, T. 1999. "Microtus pennsylvanicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Microtus_pennsylvanicus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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