Photo © Bob Gress (www.BirdsInFocus.com)
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Microtus Ochrogaster
DESCRIPTION: Prairie voles have short legs and tail, small eyes, and ears partly hidden in fur. Fur color is dark gray with a grizzled appearance. Longer hairs have either a black or brownish-yellow tip. Sides are paler in color and the belly is neutral gray or washed with a pale cinnamon. The tail is sharply bi-colored. Prairie voles may grow up to 6-3/4” in length with a tail of 1.6 inches. They typically weigh less than two ounces. The meadow vole has a similar appearance but has a longer tail than the prairie vole and never has a buffy belly.
DISTRIBUTION: Prairie voles are found in the central portions of the United States from northeastern New Mexico, central Oklahoma and Arkansas, northern Alabama, and western West Virginia, north to the Great Lakes and west to near Edmonton, Alberta.
HABITAT: Prairie voles inhabit open prairies, fence rows, rights-of-ways, cemeteries, and other areas with thick grasses, usually in fairly dry places. In summer populated areas have a ground cover of grasses or clover or both. In winter months these voles are often associated with Japanese honeysuckle.
FEEDING HABITS: Prairie voles subsist primarily on vegetative matter. Foods include grasses, clover, lespedeza, fleabane, plantain, sow thistle, wild lettuce, ragweed leaves, honeysuckle, roots, tubers, seed, fruit, and bark of shrubs and small trees. Caches of seeds and other plant parts are routinely stored in underground chambers.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Prairie voles most often travel in tunnel systems established in dense grass, and they occasionally utilize underground passages. They are less active during hot summer days and cold winter nights. Prairie voles construct burrows for both nesting and food storage. Typical nests are ellipsoidal with a mean length of seven inches, a width of six inches and a depth of four inches. Nests are generally composed of an outer layer of course grass lined with finely shredded grass. Molting may occur in any month of the year and requires three weeks for completion. Prairie voles are monogamous and form strong pair bonds while sharing duties associated with care of young. Older pups also assist with the care of newly born siblings. Breeding may occur year round but peaks between May and October. Females may breed as early as 30 to 40 days of age and produce three or four litters per year. A litter of three or four young prairie voles is born after a gestation period of 20 to 23 days. Most prairie voles live one year, but in captivity may surpass 16 months. Nearly all predators in its range will eat this vole.
Barbour, Roger H., and Davis Wayne H. 1974. Mammals of Kentucky. The University Press of Kentucky. 322 pp.
Jameson, E. W. Jr. 1947. University of Kansas Publications. Museum of Natural History.
Vol. 1. No. 7. pp. 125-151.
Stalling, Dick T. 1990. Mammalian Species. Microtus Ochrogaster. The American Society of Mammalogists. No. 35. pp. 1-9.
AUTHOR: Bruce Todd, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife & Fresheater Fisheries, November 2007