Chihuahua vole, Field mouse, Florida salt marsh vole, Meadow mouse, Saltmarsh vole
The Meadow vole is a rodent with a rounded, stocky body and a blunt nose. The size and color of this large vole depend on location. Those in southern parts of their range are usually larger, exhibiting darker coloration. Overall, the fur of this species is dense and soft with some coarser hairs. As compared to other voles, the whiskers of Meadow vole are somewhat inconspicuous, and their fur is considerably finer. Young of this species is born hairless, beginning to grow fur at 3 days old. Young are identified by darker coloration as well as black feet and tail.
The most common North American voles, the Meadow voles inhabit a huge territory, stretching eastwards from central Alaska to the Atlantic coast and southwards to the Canadian border (Rocky Mountains), Georgia and even New Mexico. The primary habitats of this species are meadows, lowland fields, grassy marshes and areas along rivers and lakes. Meadow voles may also occur in flooded marshes, orchards, high grasslands, located near water as well as open, grassy woodlands.
Habits and lifestyle
The meadow voles may be active throughout the day. However, they are more diurnal during the winter months, and are more nocturnal in summer. Territories of males are overlapping and about 3 times bigger than these of females. Meanwhile, females of this species display highly territorial behavior, fiercely defending their home ranges. If a group of more than one female occurs in the same territory, it's likely to be a mother and her daughters. Usually solitary, in winters these animals gather in nesting groups of non-overlapping maternal families. These families consist of non-breeding animals of both sexes and different ages. Meadow voles are excellent diggers and swimmers. These animals are known to make long runways through vegetation, where they store waste products. In order to defend themselves, meadow voles may use vocalizations.
Diet and nutrition
As herbivorous animals, Meadow voles primarily consume fresh grass, sedges and herbs, supplementing their diet with occasional seeds and grains. In winter, they may also use bark and roots of shrubs and small trees.
Meadow voles have a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, where individuals of both sexes mate with multiple mates. These animals breed year-round with a peak period, occurring in spring and autumn, between March and November. Gestation period lasts for 20 - 21 days, yielding up to 11 young with an average of 4 - 5. Female gives birth in a nest, located above or just beneath the surface of the ground. Those in swampy areas build their nests in the center of a grass tussock. Young voles live in the nest, growing up very quickly. Weaning occurs at 12 - 14 days old. Females of this species reach sexual maturity within the first month of their lives.
Year-round, peak in March-November
baby vole, pup
Presently, there are no notable threats to the population of Meadow voles, although the species appear to be hunted by weasels, stoats, house cats and other predators of their range. Possible threats include habitat changes that may affect certain subspecies, inhabiting small islands.
According to IUCN, the Meadow vole is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.
Meadow voles play an important role in the local ecosystem. Due to digging, Meadow voles contribute to aeration of the soil. Feeding upon grass, they recycle the nutrients, found in the grass, through defecation. And finally, these voles are key prey species for a number of predators, including owls, small hawks and falcons.
Fun facts for kids
- Voles, along with the closely related hamsters, belong to the family of Cricetidae.
- When threatened, a meadow vole usually stamps its hind legs like a rabbit.
- The species first appeared in the Late Pleistocene. Presently, the meadow vole is very common in fossil record.
- Meadow voles are very productive breeders. Females of this species are able to produce over 10 letters of up to 11 young annually. Moreover, there has been known a case of a captive meadow mole, having produced as many as 17 litters in a single year.
- These animals are able to eat as much as 60% of its body per day. They usually feed a sitting up position. When gnaw bark or a grain stalk, they have to stand.
- Voles communicate through sharp or quiet squealing sounds as well as chemical signals and scent marks.