Voles Scientific Name: Microtus ochrogaster
Like many other rodents, voles in the yard or garden become an invasive pest if their nesting grounds are left untreated. They will readily devour plants, trees, herbs and many other common yard and garden plants. Voles grow between four to seven inches, though some may be larger, and have a thick, dark fur which is common to many rodents. They may be misidentified as a mole frequently due to their similar appearance or may take the common names field mouse or meadow mice due to their preferred habitat.
If you notice your bulbs aren't growing or sprouting in springtime, or you have a criss-cross teething pattern on trees and bark, it may be a good indication of a voles presence. Other miscellaneous signs may include lackluster trees and foliage and a general sense of unhealthiness in the garden.
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There are three main types of voles native to America, and all look pretty much alike. Their main difference is their diet, which is also very similar, but may be pine cone, tree bark or grass depending on preference. They can all be managed the same way. You can distinguish voles from other rodents by their shape and size, which is longer and plumper than many rats or mice. Voles are also slightly larger, usually between four to seven inches. They have a thick brown or black-flecked fur and a short, stubby pink tail and have a similar face to a domestic hamster.
Voles are frequently misidentified as moles when outdoors but have one distinguishing difference: their diet. Voles are primarily vegetarian, which means they eat plants, flowers and other greenery. Moles are carnivorous. This means that identification for the purposes of pest control is critical when using baits, as voles will not respond to a bait left for a mole and visa versa. You should monitor activity in the evening when they are active or seek out areas of damage in the garden for confirmation of the species.
Voles appear to have higher population counts every four years or so in America due to their cyclic reproduction. They are common in America, Canada and even native to European countries. They require plant life as a food source and can live in a range of warm to cold climates but prefer somewhere in the mid ranges. They are common to localized areas and may become a pest in gardens or parks where there is a desirable environment.
Like many rodents, voles burrow and can often avoid human interaction until a pest situation is established. They are more commonly seen on roadsides, river banks and other grassy pastures where they can live mostly uninterrupted. They are most active during during fall and winter months. Their thick coats allow them to burrow through snow and survive in cooler climates, where others do not. You may notice large holes or entrances in your garden which signals the entrance to a burrow.
Life Cycle of Voles
Voles have a very short life span; they rarely live longer than a year, which makes them one of the shortest-living rodents. They have many larger predators and a naturally short life span, which means that a voles usually dies within four months of birth. Smaller sized voles may have an even higher death rate, with most dying the first month of being born.
Some species of voles are monogamous in mating and the male plays a key role in nurturing and protecting his family, while most others simply inseminate and go to the next mate. It is these more common species which create population problems. The combination of an extraordinarily young maturity and abundance of mates creates fertile environments.
The first available mating season is springtime and extends to the last opportunity in fall. Most do not live this long. Gestation is usually between 16 to 24 days, and females will give birth to between three to eight pups at that time; which are usually of an equal gender ratio. These pups are very small and look similar to mice.
Pups mature at an incredible rate due to their short life spans, and females are sexually mature within only thirteen days. Female voles can give birth as early as their 33rd day of existence. The mother, and sometimes father, will nurture their pups for a very short duration before they are fully independent. Pups will continue to live in the burrows as part of a social community.
Voles and Humans
Voles bare very few positive attributes to humans. They are considered a pest in most cases and can establish entire colonies very quickly due to their extensive reproduction cycles. They are a difficult pest to remove and appear to be a larger, more invasive version of a mouse. Identification is essential when tackling these pests, as they are commonly misidentified as moles, which require different treatment.
It is noted that in certain parts of America and Canada that their presence may be more noticeable every four years due to their continual pushing of population boundaries. Where abundance is available, they will grow widely out of control before they devour their food sources and die off once again. For more information on the diet of voles visit What do voles eat?
Voles can be a nuisance in the garden. They are an invasive pest and may be difficult to remove. Long-term pest control is usually always required to ensure populations do not establish themselves once again. Voles may require a combination of methods which may also be aided by a professional pest control company, though this is not essential.
Mouse traps: If you have smaller sized voles or creatures that have not reached maturity, you can use mouse traps as a green method in reducing population counts. They should be monitored and removed systematically to ensure sanitation and effectiveness.
Bait stations: Bait stations can be bought from many hardware stores or made at home using bottles and baits. The concept is to lure the vole into the device before trapping it. This may or may not be used in conjunction with a pesticide, which will kill the vole. Either way, you should ensure that the area is protected from children and pets, and that you follow the instructions when applying chemicals.
Prevention: Try to keep grasses low so you can see burrow entrances and avoid using mulch around the base of tree stumps, as this can encourage a playground for voles. You can also install wiring meshing around trees and plants to deter digging and burrowing around these areas and to help protect your plants.
The number of the population should be determined, if possible, as well as how long they have been in the area, to gain a better idea of which methods and applications may work. Remember, there can be upwards of 500 voles per acre of land and consistent application is required for this pest.
Voles belong to the animalia kingdom and are classed as mammalia. They share many similar physical and environmental factors as mice and other rodents. Voles belong to the rodentia family in general but are a part of the Arvicolinae subfamily.
Much like mice, these creatures have a very broad genus range and have as many of thirty recognized species which share many of the same characteristics. They are largely defined by their diet, which is vegetarian, or herbivore, with certain species showing a preference for certain plants over others.