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Voles are mice-like animals that like to snack on the plants in your garden. Because they are shy and nocturnal, you may have voles on your property without ever seeing one. However, if you notice half-eaten root vegetables in your garden, such as carrots or potatoes, or there are snake-like tunnels close to the surface all over your lawn, chances are that you’re dealing with voles. Read this article to find out more about voles and what steps you can take to eliminate them from your garden.

What Are Voles?

Voles are small rodents that form part of the subfamily Arvicolinae, to which lemmings and muskrats also belong. In North America, voles are also referred to as meadow or field mice. Although they are related to mice, however, they aren’t mice. These rodents should also not be confused with moles. Voles can be found in many parts of the world, including Britain, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, North America, and even the Arctic Tundra.

There are approximately 155 different vole species, of which several exist in North America. The most common vole is the meadow vole; in fact, this vole is one of the most common rodents on the continent. Other common vole species in North America include the woodland vole, which can be found in forests throughout the southeastern parts; the montane vole, which lives in the grasslands and tundras of mountains in the western parts of the U.S.; and the prairie vole, which inhabits the grasslands in the central parts of the continent.

What Do Voles Look Like?

There are several differences in the anatomies of mice and voles. If you’re trying to determine which animal you have on your property, here are a few pointers. Mice have slender bodies, scaly and long tails, pointed noses, large ears, and longish legs. In contrast, voles have chunkier bodies, short furry tails, blunt noses, small ears, and shorter legs. Other physical characteristics of the vole include a size of about 3 to 9 inches long and fur that can range from dark brown to gray-brown.

Image via Flickr by clairespelling1

Common Habits of Voles

The habitat of the vole is wide-ranging and includes prairies, forests, alpine and subalpine meadows, treeless tundra, swamps, and arctic areas. In North America, they can be found from Alaska in the north through to the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala in the south. They are mostly herbivorous and feed on grasses and herbaceous plants. They are also well-known for consuming the roots of plants, including spring bulbs and tubers, and for chewing the bark of trees and shrubs. Like rats and mice, they will consume nuts and fruits, and sometimes also small dead animals.

Vole populations can grow exponentially in a short period of time, due to the fact that females typically have five to 10 litters a year. Young voles reach sexual maturity within a month and can then also reproduce. However, voles have a relatively short lifespan, which on average is around three to six months. Up to 88% of voles don’t live longer than one month, though. This may partly be due to the fact that many predators prey on these rodents, including owls, coyotes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, falcons, bobcats, foxes, weasels, and lynxes.

Studies have shown that stressed or suffering voles are consoled by other voles, who will spend more time grooming them. The consoling voles also display the same levels of stress hormones as the stressed voles, which suggests that these animals have the ability to empathize. This is surprising, as this kind of behavior has exclusively been associated with humans, elephants, and apes.

Are Voles a Threat?

Voles are not a physical threat to humans, and they rarely bite. In fact, they are quite shy and will likely run away when they spot a human approaching. However, these rodents can spread disease through their urine and feces and can also be carriers of parasites. In addition, they can be very destructive to a garden. They kill plants by burrowing under the ground and feeding on their bulbs and roots. Their propensity for eating the bark of woody plants can easily kill smaller plants and weakens trees and shrubs. They also cause damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs through their burrowing.

How to Control Voles

There are several preventative measures you can take to try prevent voles from entering your property. The first step would be to cut back brush, weed the garden, and get rid of woodpiles or any other debris on the property. This will limit the areas where these rodents can hide and gather nesting material. To protect young trees and shrubs from girdling, you can wrap their lower trunks with a guard.

Voles create shallow tunnels and aren’t fond of burrowing through gravel or rock. An effective way of keeping them away from garden beds is to surround them with rock edging, which should penetrate the surface enough to prevent the shallow tunnels of voles. Mesh fencing or chicken wire is also an excellent deterrent for these animals. Bury the fencing or wire 6 to 10 inches deep and leave at least 12 inches above the ground to prevent the voles from climbing over.

You can protect your bulb plants by adding gravel to their planting holes and powdering the bulbs with fungicide before you plant them. Applying repellents, such as the urine of predators like foxes and coyotes, is also an effective deterrent. Lastly, consider adopting a cat, as they can assist in controlling the vole and other rodent populations in your garden.

However, if the measures you have taken to eliminate voles from your garden prove to be ineffective, it may be a good idea to approach a professional pest control service like Bulwark for assistance. We will provide you with advice and will eliminate voles from your garden in a humane and effective way.

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