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.
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).