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Distinguishing Vole from Mouse Tracks

12-29-13 vole-mouse tracksMeadow Voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) and White-footed Mice (Peromyscus leucopus) are two of our most common species of small rodents, and they both remain active in winter. Their feet are roughly the same size (approximately ¼ ” wide by ½” long), but the tracks they leave differ slightly, due to their differing gaits. White-footed Mice bound, leaving tracks that have a four-print pattern (parallel larger hind feet in front of smaller, parallel front feet) often with a long tail drag mark in between each set of tracks. Meadow Voles have a variety of gaits, the most common being a trot, which leaves an alternate-track trail, with the hind feet directly registering in the tracks of the front feet. Although voles can also leave a tail mark, they do so much less often than mice. Once the depth of the snow is significant, mouse tracks are more common, as voles tend to travel primarily through tunnels they’ve created under the snow.

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9 responses

  1. Rebecca Weil

    This is a wonderful post, thank you. These last five or six have been particularly interesting. One question on the hawk/owl defecation at the kill site: I often think of the owl as one that will stoop and grab and then keep going to eat the kill elsewhere, where the hawk is more likely to stay and eat at the kill site. Is this something you find?

    Best of wishes for the new year! Rebecca Weil

    January 1, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    • Hi Rebecca,
      I honestly haven’t had enough firsthand experience to know, but I don’t believe you can fit them into two neat categories…though it would be nice!

      January 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm

  2. Skip Lisle

    Thanks, Margaret! It was great to see you, too. Happy New Year. All the best, Skip

    January 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    I love the name I learned for the gait where the hind foot lands exactly in the print of the front foot: perfect stepping. I have taught groups of children about this by having one child put her/his hands on the waist of another, and having them pretend to be a four-legged animal doing that perfect stepping gait. Of course you need snow. It really works, for any of you teachers out there, and the kids love it.

    January 1, 2014 at 9:35 pm

  4. Kathy Schillemat

    Thanks for the clarification. I was always curious about how to identify the tiny mammal tracks that I see in the woods.

    January 1, 2014 at 11:38 pm

  5. T hank you Mary for the recent posts on animal tracks. It’s a tough time of year to go out and scout, but so worth it! Strap on your snowshoes and go looking for signs of life!

    January 7, 2014 at 12:05 am

  6. Why are there more tracks when the snow is deeper so that the rodents can tunnel underneath? Do they come up on top for some reason before descending to tunnel again?
    Curious, Kate

    January 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    • Hi Kate,
      I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your question… voles do occasionally travel on top of the snow and then burrrow down under, if it’s deep enough, and in very deep snow, they usually stay below the surface in their runways. I’m not sure why they risk exposing themselves if the snow is deep. Mice, while they can tunnel, seldom do. Please let me know if I haven’t answered your question!

      January 13, 2014 at 9:38 pm

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