Woodland Vole

The eyes are small; the ears short and nearly hidden by the fur surrounding them. Characters useful in distinguishing this species from other Adirondack voles include fur color and texture, and tail length. The back and sides are auburn or chestnut; the throat, belly and feet are gray to buffy gray. The tail is about 25 mm (1.0 in) in length, slightly longer than the hind foot. Bog lemmings have shorter tails and shaggy fur; the other voles have longer tails.

A diminutive harvest mouse like R. montanus, but upperparts deep brown or gray, heavily mixed with black, especially on the mid-dorsal area; ears blackish all over rather than dark at the base and light at the tip; tail about as long as head and body, the dark dorsal and light ventral stripes about equal in width.

Habits: Both the latin pinetorum and another common name, the pine vole, refer to a habitat this rodent occupies only in the Southeast. In the Adirondacks, it chiefly resides in deciduous and mixed forests where soils are loose and covered with a thick leaf litter. Woodland voles do not create surface runways, but dig shallow tunnels 2.5-5.0 cm in diameter, that permeate the forest floor, to depths of 7.6-10.0 cm , occasionally deeper. Many tunnels are just under the matted layer of organic debris. Nests 15-18 cm in diameter and made from dry leaves, grass, and rootlets are either a few centimeters underground or near the surface and under objects such as logs. Each nest has several openings leading to adjacent tunnels.

These mice occur largely in woodland areas where ground cover in the form of leaf litter and lodged grasses offers suitable protection. They are rarely, if ever, found westward in the zone of sparse rainfall. This fact seems to correlate well with their fondness for burrowing just under the surface of the ground, much after the fashion of moles. Although they sometimes use surface runways in grassy areas, they are more inclined to spend their time in underground galleries that they dig for themselves or usurp from moles, short-tailed shrews, or other small mammals. Their burrows are about 4 cm in diameter and seldom more than 7-10 cm beneath the surface of the ground. The normal home range of individuals appears to be about one-tenth of a hectare.

Life cycle: The breeding season extends at least from February to October, and may continue through the winter. During the breeding period an adult female may give birth to as many as four litters of two to four young each. At birth the young ones are blind and naked and weigh slightly more than 2 g. In about 1 week they are well-furred; the eyes open in 9-12 days; and they are weaned when about 17 days old. They begin to acquire adult pelage at about 4 weeks of age. The gestation period is reported as 24 days.

Damages: Voles may cause extensive damage to orchards, ornamentals,and tree plantings by gnawing on the bark of seedlings and mature trees (girdling). They eat crops outright and also cause damage by building extensive runway and tunnel systems through crop fields. Underground, woodland voles may consume small roots, girdle large roots, and eat bark from the base of trees. After the snow has melted in early spring, the runway systems of meadow voles can also create unsightly areas in lawns, golf courses, and ground covers. However, this usually is only a temporary problem.

The most easily identifiable sign of meadow voles is an extensive surface runway system with numerous burrow openings. Voles keep these runways free of obstructions, and vegetation near well-traveled runways may be clipped close to the ground. Overhanging vegetation provides cover as they travel along runways. Such travel lanes, about 11⁄2 inches wide, are reliable indicators of meadow vole activity. Woodland voles do not use surface runways, but rather build extensive systems of underground tunnels. As they build the tunnels, they push out dirt,producing small, conical piles of soil on the ground surface.These small, conical piles of soil are an indicator of woodland vole activity.

Control: The preferred vole damage control techniques vary with the size of the population. When populations are low, and damage is not extreme, exclusion or trapping may be the most economical means of avoiding damage. Large populations causing extensive damage may warrant the use of repellents and toxicants. If the property owner does not feel he or she can properly handle the necessary damage control techniques, many wildlife pest control operators are available throughout the state that deal with vole problems.Contact your county extension office or the yellow pages for information regarding these operators.