Voles are a common nuisance species for homeowners and commercial accounts alike. Calls for service and control of voles most commonly occur in early and late spring when snow melt occurs and customers observe damage to their lawns.
These animals belong to the genus Microtus and numerous species belong to this genus. Here in Illinois the prairie vole, the meadow vole and the pine vole are the main species that cause damage to lawn and turf. They are stocky, rounded mice like mammals with short legs, a blunt nose, small eyes, small ears and short legs. Calls for service request control of these species as their ability to burrow and create trails in turf is substantial.
Ecologically, voles are intimately related to grasses and grassland habitat. Voles are semifossorial (underground living) and create numerous underground burrows connected to numerous surface runways. The burrows provide protection from the elements, nursing areas and areas to rest free from predators. The surface runways are well-kept, worn to the bare soil and often feces can be observed in the runways. Voles use these runways to access food, most frequently grasses and forbes. In late fall they store numerous varieties of seeds and tubers. Burrows are often built near or under rock, and homeowners often find their front stoop or cement patio has been adopted by a family of voles.
Voles are active creatures and are active day and night. Their main mode of locomotion is running and are often seen "zipping" along their surface runways. They are active all year long and do not hibernate. Because of their size and high activity rate they require large amounts of food.
Voles are a prey species for numerous predators and have a high rate of birth. They breed throughout the year but spring and summer are peak times. They have a short gestation period of approximately 23 days in order to offset losses from predation. At 21 days, the offspring are weaned and female voles are ready to breed at 40 days. They have short lifespans and are estimated as low as 2 months and as high as 18 months.
Damage can be considerable especially if there is a high population present. Most residential homeowners observe damage before populations become too high. Homeowners living near fields, woods and grasslands often suffer from vole damage. Many of our service calls involve newly built homes near vacant fields. The voles adopt the cement stoops and patios as their own and soon home owners are observing the tell tale surface runways and burrow entrances.
Trapping is the recommended control method for this species.
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