As the deep
snows in our yards or on our properties recede, you may be greeted
by one or more pathways in the snow (see photo). If you’re lucky,
these paths only run from one burrow opening to another. Unfortunately,
some of the trails probably lead to some of your favorite trees and
the damage caused by the animals girdling (gnawing the bark off all
the way around the plant) the tree will kill it.
The furry culprit in this
destruction? The vole.
Also known as meadow mice,
these small, stocky short-tailed rodents can cause severe damage in
landscape, orchard, windbreak or timber plantings. They measure from
4 to 8.5 inches long and vary in color from brown to gray. They are
pudgy, with blunt faces and small eyes, small and sometimes inconspicuous
ears, short legs, and a short and scantily haired tail (the long-tailed
vole is an exception).
Voles are active day and
night throughout the year. They usually live 2 to 16 months. Voles
construct many surface runways and underground tunnels with many burrow
Voles are extremely prolific,
having three to six young per litter and three to 12 litters per year.
Females may become pregnant at three weeks of age and voles breed
almost year round. Large population fluctuations ranging from 14 to
500 voles per acre are common.
Most vole damage occurs
in the winter when voles move through their grass runways under protection
of snow or where there are thick, tall grasses and weeds. Heaviest
vole damage seems to coincide with years of heavy snowfall.