Vole
Overview
A vole is a small rodent resembling a mouse
Mouse
A mouse is a small mammal belonging to the order of rodents. The best known mouse species is the common house mouse . It is also a popular pet. In some places, certain kinds of field mice are also common. This rodent is eaten by large birds such as hawks and eagles...

 but with a stouter body, a shorter hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and eyes, and differently formed molars
Molar (tooth)
Molars are the rearmost and most complicated kind of tooth in most mammals. In many mammals they grind food; hence the Latin name mola, "millstone"....

 (high-crowned and with angular cusps instead of low-crowned and with rounded cusps). There are approximately 155 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of voles. They are sometimes known as meadow mice or field mice in North America. Vole species form the subfamily Arvicolinae
Arvicolinae
The Arvicolinae are a subfamily of rodents that includes the voles, lemmings, and muskrats. They are most closely related to the other subfamilies in the Cricetidae . Some authorities place the subfamily Arvicolinae in the family Muridae along with all other members of the superfamily Muroidea...

 with the lemming
Lemming
Lemmings are small rodents, usually found in or near the Arctic, in tundra biomes. They are subniveal animals, and together with voles and muskrats, they make up the subfamily Arvicolinae , which forms part of the largest mammal radiation by far, the superfamily Muroidea, which also includes rats,...

s and the muskrat
Muskrat
The muskrat , the only species in genus Ondatra, is a medium-sized semi-aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands and is a very successful animal over a wide range of climates and habitats...

s.
Voles are small rodents that grow to 3-9 inches, depending on the species.
Encyclopedia
A vole is a small rodent resembling a mouse
Mouse
A mouse is a small mammal belonging to the order of rodents. The best known mouse species is the common house mouse . It is also a popular pet. In some places, certain kinds of field mice are also common. This rodent is eaten by large birds such as hawks and eagles...

 but with a stouter body, a shorter hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and eyes, and differently formed molars
Molar (tooth)
Molars are the rearmost and most complicated kind of tooth in most mammals. In many mammals they grind food; hence the Latin name mola, "millstone"....

 (high-crowned and with angular cusps instead of low-crowned and with rounded cusps). There are approximately 155 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of voles. They are sometimes known as meadow mice or field mice in North America. Vole species form the subfamily Arvicolinae
Arvicolinae
The Arvicolinae are a subfamily of rodents that includes the voles, lemmings, and muskrats. They are most closely related to the other subfamilies in the Cricetidae . Some authorities place the subfamily Arvicolinae in the family Muridae along with all other members of the superfamily Muroidea...

 with the lemming
Lemming
Lemmings are small rodents, usually found in or near the Arctic, in tundra biomes. They are subniveal animals, and together with voles and muskrats, they make up the subfamily Arvicolinae , which forms part of the largest mammal radiation by far, the superfamily Muroidea, which also includes rats,...

s and the muskrat
Muskrat
The muskrat , the only species in genus Ondatra, is a medium-sized semi-aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands and is a very successful animal over a wide range of climates and habitats...

s.

Description

Voles are small rodents that grow to 3-9 inches, depending on the species. They can have 5–10 litters per year. Gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 lasts for 3 weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity
Sexual maturity
Sexual maturity is the age or stage when an organism can reproduce. It is sometimes considered synonymous with adulthood, though the two are distinct...

 in a month. As a result of this exponential growth
Exponential growth
Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of a mathematical function is proportional to the function's current value...

, vole populations can grow very large within a very short period of time. Since litters average 5–10 young, a single pregnant vole in a yard can result in a hundred or more active voles in less than a year.

Voles are commonly mistaken for other small animals. Mole
Mole (animal)
Moles are small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. They have velvety fur; tiny or invisible ears and eyes; and short, powerful limbs with large paws oriented for digging. The term is especially and most properly used for the true moles, those of the Talpidae family in the...

s, gophers
Gopher (animal)
The term gopher as it is commonly used does not relate to any one species, but is a generic term used to describe any of several small burrowing rodents endemic to North America, including the pocket gopher , also called true gophers, and the ground squirrel , including Richardson's ground squirrel...

, mice
Mouse
A mouse is a small mammal belonging to the order of rodents. The best known mouse species is the common house mouse . It is also a popular pet. In some places, certain kinds of field mice are also common. This rodent is eaten by large birds such as hawks and eagles...

, rats
Rat
Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus...

 and even shrew
Shrew
A shrew or shrew mouse is a small molelike mammal classified in the order Soricomorpha. True shrews are also not to be confused with West Indies shrews, treeshrews, otter shrews, or elephant shrews, which belong to different families or orders.Although its external appearance is generally that of...

s have similar characteristics and behavioral
Ethology
Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology....

 tendencies. Since voles will commonly use burrow
Burrow
A burrow is a hole or tunnel dug into the ground by an animal to create a space suitable for habitation, temporary refuge, or as a byproduct of locomotion. Burrows provide a form of shelter against predation and exposure to the elements, so the burrowing way of life is quite popular among the...

s with many exit holes, they can be mistaken for gophers or some kind of ground squirrel
Ground squirrel
The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less...

. Voles can create and will oftentimes utilize old abandoned mole tunnels thus confusing the land owner into thinking that moles are active. When voles find their way into the home, they are readily misidentified as mice or young rats. In fact, voles are unique and best described as being a little bit like all the other animals they are so commonly thought to be.

They will readily thrive on small plants. Like shrews they will eat dead animals and like mice or rats, they can live on most any nut or fruit. Additionally, voles will target plants more than most other small animals. It is here where their presence is mostly evident. Voles will readily girdle
Girdling
Girdling, also called ring barking or ring-barking, is the complete removal of a strip of bark from around the entire circumference of either a branch or trunk of a woody plant. Girdling results in the death of wood tissues beyond the damage...

 small trees and ground cover much like a porcupine
Porcupine
Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that defend or camouflage them from predators. They are indigenous to the Americas, southern Asia, and Africa. Porcupines are the third largest of the rodents, behind the capybara and the beaver. Most porcupines are about long, with...

. This girdling can easily kill young plants and is not healthy for trees or other shrubs.

Voles will often eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover they are particularly fond of and eat away until the plant is dead. Bulb
Bulb
A bulb is a short stem with fleshy leaves or leaf bases. The leaves often function as food storage organs during dormancy.A bulb's leaf bases, known as scales, generally do not support leaves, but contain food reserves to enable the plant to survive adverse conditions. At the center of the bulb is...

s in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunnelling gives them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. A vole infestation is often only identifiable after they have destroyed a number of plants.

Predators

Many predators such as martens, raccoons, owl
Owl
Owls are a group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, constituting 200 bird of prey species. Most are solitary and nocturnal, with some exceptions . Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish...

s, hawk
Hawk
The term hawk can be used in several ways:* In strict usage in Australia and Africa, to mean any of the species in the subfamily Accipitrinae, which comprises the genera Accipiter, Micronisus, Melierax, Urotriorchis and Megatriorchis. The large and widespread Accipiter genus includes goshawks,...

s, falcon
Falcon
A falcon is any species of raptor in the genus Falco. The genus contains 37 species, widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America....

s, coyote
Coyote
The coyote , also known as the American jackal or the prairie wolf, is a species of canine found throughout North and Central America, ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States and Canada...

s, fox
Fox
Fox is a common name for many species of omnivorous mammals belonging to the Canidae family. Foxes are small to medium-sized canids , characterized by possessing a long narrow snout, and a bushy tail .Members of about 37 species are referred to as foxes, of which only 12 species actually belong to...

es, snakes, the red tailed hawk, weasel
Weasel
Weasels are mammals forming the genus Mustela of the Mustelidae family. They are small, active predators, long and slender with short legs....

s, cat
Felidae
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the thirteen terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the...

s and dogs eat voles. Vole bones are often found in the pellets of the short-eared owl
Short-eared Owl
The Short-eared Owl is a species of typical owl . In Scotland this species of owl is often referred to as a cataface, grass owl or short-horned hootlet. Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. These "ear" tufts may or may...

 as well as the northern spotted owl
Northern Spotted Owl
The Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina, is one of three Spotted Owl subspecies. A Western North American bird in the family Strigidae, genus Strix, it is a medium-sized dark brown owl sixteen to nineteen inches in length and one to one and one sixth pounds. Females are larger than males...

, the Saw-whet Owl, the barn Owl
Barn Owl
The Barn Owl is the most widely distributed species of owl, and one of the most widespread of all birds. It is also referred to as Common Barn Owl, to distinguish it from other species in the barn-owl family Tytonidae. These form one of two main lineages of living owls, the other being the typical...

, the Great Gray Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl
The Northern Pygmy Owl , is a small owl native to North and Central America.-Taxonomy:Some experts consider this bird a superspecies with the Mountain Pygmy Owl. The American Ornithologists' Union, the authority for the North American region, does not recognize this split, so the populations are...

.

Lifespan

The average life of the smaller vole species is 3–6 months. These voles rarely live longer than 12 months. Larger species, such as the european water vole, live longer and usually die during their second, or rarely their third, winter. It is estimated that as many as 88% of voles die within the first month of life.

Genetics and sexual behavior

The prairie vole
Prairie Vole
The Prairie Vole is a small vole found in central North America. The vole has long, coarse grayish-brown fur on the upper portion of the body and yellowish fur on the lower portion of the body...

 is a notable animal model for its monogamous
Monogamy
Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

 sexual fidelity, since the male is usually faithful to the female, and shares in the raising of pups. (The woodland vole
Woodland Vole
The Woodland Vole, Microtus pinetorum, is a small vole found in eastern North America. It is also known as the Pine Vole.-Description:...

 is also usually monogamous.) Another species from the same genus, the meadow vole
Meadow Vole
The Meadow Vole , sometimes called the Field Mouse or Meadow Mouse, is a North American vole found across Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. Its range extends further south along the Atlantic coast. One subspecies, the Florida Salt Marsh Vole , is found in Florida, and is classified as...

, has promiscuously mating males, and scientists have changed adult male meadow voles' behavior to resemble that of prairie voles in experiments in which a single gene was introduced into the brain via a virus.

The behavior is influenced by the number of repetitions of a particular string of microsatellite DNA, and the same DNA sequence is found in humans. Male prairie voles with the longest DNA strings spend more time with their mates and pups than male prairie voles with shorter strings. However, other scientists have disputed the gene's relationship to monogamy, and cast doubt on whether the human version plays an analogous role. Physiologically, pair-bonding behavior has been shown to be tied up with vasopressin
Vasopressin
Arginine vasopressin , also known as vasopressin, argipressin or antidiuretic hormone , is a neurohypophysial hormone found in most mammals, including humans. Vasopressin is a peptide hormone that controls the reabsorption of molecules in the tubules of the kidneys by affecting the tissue's...

, dopamine
Dopamine
Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates. In the brain, this substituted phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five known types of dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their...

, and oxytocin
Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain.Oxytocin is best known for its roles in sexual reproduction, in particular during and after childbirth...

, with the genetic influence apparently arising via the number receptors for these substances in the brain; the pair-bonding behavior has also been shown in experiments to be strongly modifiable by administering some of these substances directly.

Voles exhibit complex genetic structures with much variation, and appear to be evolving rapidly when compared with other vertebrates. For this reason, they can be useful to archaeologists for dating strata, in a method referred to as the "vole clock."

Voles have a number of unusual chromosomal traits. Species have been found with anywhere from 17–64 chromosomes, and in some species males and females have different chromosome numbers. Female voles have been found with chromosomes from both sexes, and in one species the sex chromosomes contain 20% of the genome. All of these variations result in very little physical aberration: most vole species are virtually indistinguishable.

Classification

  • Order Rodent
    Rodent
    Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents, characterised by two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing....

    ia
    • Superfamily Muroidea
      Muroidea
      Muroidea is a large superfamily of rodents. It includes hamsters, gerbils, true mice and rats, and many other relatives. They occupy a vast variety of habitats on every continent except Antarctica. Some authorities have placed all members of this group into a single family, Muridae, due to...

      • Family Cricetidae
        Cricetidae
        The Cricetidae are a family of rodents in the large and complex superfamily Muroidea. It includes true hamsters, voles, lemmings, and New World rats and mice...

        • Subfamily Arvicolinae
          Arvicolinae
          The Arvicolinae are a subfamily of rodents that includes the voles, lemmings, and muskrats. They are most closely related to the other subfamilies in the Cricetidae . Some authorities place the subfamily Arvicolinae in the family Muridae along with all other members of the superfamily Muroidea...

          (in part)
          • Tribe Arvicolini
            Arvicolini
            Arvicolini is a tribe of voles in the subfamily Arvicolinae.-List of species:Tribe Arvicolini*Genus Arvicola - water voles**European Water Vole, Arvicola amphibius ...

            • Genus Arvicola
              Arvicola
              The water voles are large voles in the genus Arvicola. They are found in both aquatic and dry habitat through Europe and much of northern Asia...

              - water voles
            • Genus Blanfordimys
              Blanfordimys
              Blanfordimys is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Afghan Vole * Bucharian Vole -References:...

              - Afghan vole and Bucharian vole
            • Genus Chionomys
              Chionomys
              Chionomys is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Caucasian Snow Vole * European Snow Vole * Robert's Snow Vole -References:...

              - snow voles
            • Genus Lasiopodomys
              Lasiopodomys
              Lasiopodomys is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Brandt's Vole * Plateau Vole * Mandarin Vole -References:...

            • Genus Lemmiscus - sagebrush vole
            • Genus Microtus
              Microtus
              The genus Microtus is a group of voles found in North America, Europe and northern Asia. The genus name refers to the small ears of these animals. There are 62 species in the genus....

              - voles
            • Genus Neodon
              Neodon
              Neodon is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae. Species within the Neodon genus are classified as relics of the Pleistocene epoch because the occlusal patterns resemble the extinct Allophaiomys.The Neodon genus contains the following species:...

              - mountain voles
            • Genus Phaiomys
            • Genus Proedromys
              Proedromys
              Proedromys is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae from China. It is part of the tribe Arvicolini within the subfamily Arvicolinae, which contains the voles, lemmings, and relatives.It contains the following species:...

              - Duke of Bedford's vole
            • Genus Volemys
              Volemys
              Volemys is a small genus of rodents in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Szechuan Vole * Marie's Vole Both members of this genus are endemic to China.-References:...

          • Tribe Ellobiusini - mole voles
            • Genus Ellobius
              Ellobius
              Ellobius is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Alai Mole Vole * Southern Mole Vole * Transcaucasian Mole Vole...

              - mole voles
          • Tribe Lagurini
            • Genus Lagurus - steppe vole (also called steppe lemming)
          • Tribe Myodini
            Myodini
            Myodini is a tribe of forest voles in the subfamily Arvicolinae. Species in this tribe are:Genus Alticola - voles from Central Asia*Subgenus Alticola**White-tailed Mountain Vole, Alticola albicauda**Silver Mountain Vole, Alticola argentatus...

            • Genus Alticola
              Alticola
              Alticola is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:*Subgenus Alticola** White-tailed Mountain Vole ** Silver Mountain Vole...

              - voles from Central Asia
              Central Asia
              Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

            • Genus Caryomys
            • Genus Eothenomys
              Eothenomys
              Eothenomys is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* Kachin Red-backed Vole * Pratt's Vole * Southwest China Vole...

              - voles from East Asia
              East Asia
              East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

            • Genus Hyperacrius
              Hyperacrius
              Hyperacrius is a genus of rodent in the family Cricetidae.It contains the following species:* True's Vole * Murree Vole -References:...

              - voles from Pakistan
              Pakistan
              Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

            • Genus Myodes - red-backed voles
          • Tribe Pliomyini
            • Genus Dinaromys - voles from the Dinaric Alps
              Dinaric Alps
              The Dinaric Alps or Dinarides form a mountain chain in Southern Europe, spanning areas of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro....

          • incertae sedis
            Incertae sedis
            , is a term used to define a taxonomic group where its broader relationships are unknown or undefined. Uncertainty at specific taxonomic levels is attributed by , , and similar terms.-Examples:*The fossil plant Paradinandra suecica could not be assigned to any...

            • Genus Arborimus - tree voles
            • Genus Phenacomys - heather voles

External links

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