Voles


Figure 1. Meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus).
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Identification | Biology | Damage Id | Management | Resources

Learning Objectives

  1. Communicate options for the control of voles to clients.
  2. Identify where control achieves the best results.
  3. Explain mistakes that typically are made during the control of voles.

Identification

Voles (Figure 1), also called meadow mice or field mice, are New World rodents that belong to the genus Microtus. Twenty-three species of voles occupy the US, 7 of which cause significant economic damage.

Legal Status

Voles are non-game mammals and can be controlled whenever they are causing damage. Contact your local state wildlife agency for details regarding codes and regulations.

Physical Description and Species Range

Voles are compact animals with stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. The eyes are small and the ears are not very visible. Voles usually are brown or gray, although many color variations exist. Tentative identification of an individual can be made using the information provided herein. For positive identification, use a field guide or contact an expert.

Prairie voles (M. ochrogaster, Figure 2a) are 5 to 7 inches in total length (nose to tip of tail). The fur is gray to dark brown, mixed with gray-, yellow-, or hazel-tipped hairs, giving the animals a “peppery” appearance. Underparts are gray to yellow-gray. They are the most common voles in prairie habitats.

Figure 2a. Distribution of the prairie vole in North America. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (PCWD).

Long-tailed voles (M. longicaudus, Figure 2b) are distinguished from other species in the genus Microtus by the tail, which comprises 30% or more of the total length of 6 to 8 inches. The fur is gray to dark brown with many black-tipped hairs. Underparts are gray, mixed with some white or yellow. The tail is bicolored.

 Figure 2b. Distribution of the long-tailed vole in North America. Image by PCWD.

Meadow voles (M. pennsylvanicus, Figure 2c) are the most widely distributed Microtus species in the US. Total length is 5½ to 7½ inches. The fur is gray to yellow-brown and obscured by black-tipped hairs. Northern subspecies may have red in their fur. Underparts are gray, sometimes washed with silver or buff. The tail is bicolored.

California voles (M. californicus, Figure 2c) are 6 to 8½ inches in total length. The fur is olive to cinnamon-brown with brown to black overhairs with grayish underparts. The tail is bicolored.

Figure 2c. Distribution of the meadow vole (light) and California vole (dark) in North America. Image by PCWD.

Pine or woodland voles (M. pinetorum, Figure 2d) have a total length of 4 to 6 inches. The brown fur is soft and dense. Underparts are gray, mixed with some yellow to cinnamon. The tail is barely bicolored or uniform in color.

Montane (mountain) voles (M. montanus, Figure 2d) are 5½ to 8½ inches in total length. The fur is brown, washed with gray or yellow, and mixed with some black-tipped hairs. The underparts are whitish. The tail is bicolored.

Oregon voles (M. oregoni, Figure 2d) are 5½ to 6½ inches in total length. The fur is gray to brown. Underparts are dark with some yellow or white. The tail is bicolored.

Figure 2d. Distribution of the pine (light), montane (medium), and Oregon vole (dark) in North America. Image by PCWD.

Voice and Sounds

Woodland voles make a high pitched noise that may serve as a warning signal.

Tracks and Signs

Tracks of voles (Figure 3) may be seen following a light snow. Typically, evidence of their actions are noticed only when damage is observed.


Figure 3. Tracks of a meadow vole. Image by Dee Ebbeka.