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.
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.
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.
Meadow voles are short-lived, rarely living for longer than one year in the wild.
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.
Meadow voles have keen hearing and a good sense of smell. Vocalizations are primarily used in defensive situations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meadow voles destroy many weeds, especially weed grasses, and serve as food for some fur animals and other predators.
The meadow vole is very abundant and has no special conservation status.
Tim Neuburger (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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.
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.
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.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
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).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
uses touch to communicate
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).
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
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
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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).