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Meadow Voles Soon To Begin Breeding

2-23-16  meadow vole 036

Under perfect conditions, with no predators, no deaths and abundant food, a pair of meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) could produce a million descendants in a single year. Because they are prey for nearly every meat-eating animal that exists, however, their population, while large, is nowhere near this.

Even though the number of meadow voles is relatively high and they are active day and night, year round, it is unusual to actually set eyes on one. What we do find, especially this time of year, are meadow vole signs in the snow: mazes of runways on the surface of the ground that are exposed as snow starts to melt, air-exchange holes originating in their tunnels and extending to the surface of the snow, tracks and entrance/exit holes to their tunnels.

The social behavior of meadow voles is about to undergo a seasonal change. During the winter, when they are not breeding, meadow voles are more social and commonly share their nests, probably to conserve heat. In another month, however, as breeding begins, females become fiercely territorial towards other females, and males are aggressively establishing dominance over each other. The peaceable subnivean meadow vole kingdom is about to come to an end. (Thanks to Susan and Dean Greenberg for photo op.)

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13 responses

  1. seems a risky business being a meadow vole

    February 25, 2016 at 7:49 am

  2. Marie Hanson

    Dear Mary, This is the best way to start the day, To remind us to be present as a whole beautiful world is unfolding in our backyard. Thank you! Marie

    On 2/25/16, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland

    February 25, 2016 at 7:49 am

  3. Alice Pratt

    Seeing them “alive” might be unusual, but my kitties hunt them and gift them to me…. 😬

    February 25, 2016 at 7:49 am

  4. I think you just solved a mystery for me. When I was bushwhacking up a mountain a couple of days ago, I noticed a hole extending downward into fairly deep snow, with no tracks anywhere near the hole. I wondered what it was. I bet it was an air-exchange hole!

    February 25, 2016 at 9:33 am

    • It sounds like it, Wendy. About an inch in diameter, no tracks in or out.

      February 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      • Your words describe it exactly. Thanks again!

        February 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm

  5. And if only they would stay out of my garden…..

    February 26, 2016 at 12:27 pm

  6. With the lack of snow cover this year, I expect it has been a bad winter for them but a good one for the predators! Cute as they are, they are devils in the garden so I root for the predators!

    February 26, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    • I think you have a lot of company, Eliza!

      February 26, 2016 at 6:45 pm

  7. ann

    are meadow voles found in michigan wooded dune areas along lake michigan?

    February 29, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    • Range maps show meadow voles throughout Michigan, but I don’t know specifically about the area which you are referring to.

      February 29, 2016 at 2:16 pm

  8. Cameron

    The math on the second year of unfettered procreation is staggering!
    I love your blog – thanks for all of your hard work!

    March 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm

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