Animal Picture  
  Voles - An Overview

What many people call the field mouse is not a mouse at all. It's a vole. Voles tend to look like a plump little mouse, and sometimes it can take a trained person to tell them apart.


The vole is 5.5 to 8 inches long including a tail 1.5 to 3 inches long. The tail of a vole is usually 1/2 its body length. Unlike a mouse, a vole has ears that are smaller and not easy to see. The nose or snout is more blunt and shorter than that of a mouse. It weighs just 1 to 3 ounces, heavier than a mouse of the same body length. The color of its upper side can be anything from yellowish brown or reddish brown speckled with black to blackish brown. Its underside is grey with silver-tipped hairs. Its feet are always dark.


The meadow vole lives in all parts of the Northeast United States, and resudes in green fields, marshes, swamps, grassy glades of forests, and on high hills. It also lives in all evergreen or boreal forests in Canada except for Newfoundland and areas farther north. Voles live in all forests, at the edge of woodlands, and in uphill "heaths". Heaths are places where only grasses, mosses, and bushes grow. The vole usually builds a nest of grass in thick grass or under stones. Sometimes it uses the burrow left by another small mammal to hide its nest.


Voles eat plants. These include dwarf birch, blueberries, cranberries, soapberries, bearberries, mushrooms, and herbs. The herbs a vole eats include fireweed, baked apple, and cinquefoil. Voles will clip and pile twigs in caches to eat them later. The home range of the heather vole is about 0.8 hectares. It lives most of its life within that range.


The enemies of the vole include the ermine, red fox, marten, owls, and hawks.

  Life Cycle

Voles have a brief chase for a courtship, then the males and females will mate. After only 19 to 24 days, two to eight blind, hairless young are born. The young weigh only 2.4 grams and feed from eight teats on their mother's belly. Their eyes open at 14 days, and the young will stop taking milk from their mother at 17 to 21 days. Young voles are on their own at the age of one month. Females can mate when four to six weeks old. Males must wait until the following spring before they can mate. Females have two or three litters a year between May and September, most surviving for only a year. A few live for two or even three years.

  Special Features

Voles do not hibernate. They build nests and latrines of grass under the snow and live on the bark of willow, birch, and heath plants. A latrine is a place for an animal to put its wastes or droppings, and thus keep its nest clean.

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