A vole is a small rodent in the genus Microtus. Many people mistake voles for mice, since the two animals look quite similar, but voles have a number of unique characteristics which distinguish them from mice. If you live in Africa, North America, Europe, or Asia, chances are very high that there are some voles in your area, as these rodents are widespread on all of these continents, especially in rural agricultural areas or regions with big gardens or parks.
At first glance, one can be forgiven for mistaking a vole for a mouse. Voles are generally smaller, however, with stockier legs, shorter tails, and small, sometimes almost hidden, ears. Most voles are brownish in color with cream to yellow bellies, short snouts, and very small eyes. Their compact bodies are ideally suited for burrowing, so it should come as no surprise to learn that voles nest and live in small burrows.
Voles can be found in woodlands, prairies, and meadows, and one species, the water vole, even lives a semiaquatic lifestyle. You may also hear voles mistakenly referred to as “field mice” by people who are unaware of the subtleties of the vole/mouse distinction.
Voles can breed at any time throughout the year, although vole populations tend to spike in the spring. Voles are also active at all times of the day and night, unlike many other mammals, who adhere to a set schedule. The lifespan of a vole averages around three to six months, with some voles living up to a year, and scientific research on voles has indicated that they have an unusually high mutation rate.
Most voles prefer to eat vegetation such as grasses and shrubs, although they will also eat insects. Because voles enjoy vegetation, they can be a serious nuisance in the garden. They will readily destroy flowering plants, and they can wreak havoc on crops, destroying the crops before they can be harvested. For this reason, most people treat voles as pests.
Reducing the amount of vegetation and mulch can help to deter voles, as can the installation of fencing. Some people encourage their cats and dogs to hang out in the garden to dissuade vole visitors, while others use stand-ins in the form of models or cut-outs which are meant to scare the creatures away. Several companies also manufacture repellents which are supposed to deter voles; these products are not always effective. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to put out bait for voles, because other animals could eat the bait and be injured, and poisoned voles could poison predators such as owls, dogs, cats, snakes, and others.