Voles

Meadow Vole Trail

Meadow Vole Trail (Guelph Lake Nature Centre, March 2015)

Meadow Vole Trail (Guelph Lake Nature Centre, March 2015)

Voles use a walking gait when travelling on the surface of the snow.  My tracking friend Alex explained that most mammals that tunnel will tend to use a walking gait.  This makes sense to me since it is almost impossible to jump inside a tunnel.

Vole Tracks

Vole, Shrew or Mouse Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Vole, Shrew or Mouse Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

While tracking with Dan Gardoqui in Algonquin Park, he showed me what to look for when identifying clear tracks for voles, shrews and mice.   Voles and mice have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their rear feet.  Shrews have five toes on their front and five on their rear feet.

Vole Nest

I learned that a captive meadow vole can produce 17 litters in one year!  Most meadow voles are predated since they are an important food source for many animals.  Meadow voles typically have litters of four to six young hidden in a grassy nest like this one:

Meadow Vole Nest (Kiera's Forest, September 2014)

Meadow Vole Nest (Kiera’s Forest, September 2014)

Signs of Grazing

While observing a carpenter ant nest, our tracking leader Alexis Burnett pointed out 45-degree-angle cuts on the grass.  Voles had been grazing the grass at the top of the ant mound. We were also able to see a latrine site for voles near the neatly chewed grass.

Looking for vole tracks on an ant nest (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Looking for vole tracks on an ant nest (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Vole Sign: Grazing on Grass (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Vole Sign: Grazing on Grass (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Vole Scat

Vole Scat (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Vole Scat (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

According to Mark Elbroch, “vole scats are capsule shaped with smooth surfaces and rounded ends.  Vole scats accumulate in latrines and voles often prefer to create latrines on elevated surfaces near runs”.* (Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 503).  The ant mound was approximately 15 cm  high – definitely an elevated surface from a vole’s perspective.

Vole Chew Marks

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Vole Chew Marks

Vole chew marks – 45 degree angle, dig into the soil in winter to eat the roots of grasses (where the nutrition is) excavate tunnels and leave behind eskers or trail castings. (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, May 2014)

Fun Activity (from Alexis Burnett):

Look under the grass for meadow vole tunnels. Try to find their droppings and look for grasses that are cut at a 45 degree angle. Look for insects that are using these tunnels as “insect highways”.

Red-backed Vole sign on Mushrooms

Mushroom eaten by a Red-Backed Vole? (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Mushroom eaten by a Red-Backed Vole? (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

I learned that Red-Backed Voles are common in conifer forests in Algonquin Park.  I read that “red-backed voles shuttle parts of mushrooms back and forth to a nearby burrow.  Large mushrooms are dismantled where they are found and then moved in manageable chunks until only the stem is visible below the earth’s surface”*. (Retrieved from: North American Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 564).

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

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