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Voles, also called meadow mice or field mice, belong to the genus Microtus. Voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Their eyes are small and their ears partially hidden. Their underfur is generally dense and covered with thicker, longer guard hairs. They usually are brown or gray, though many color variations exist. There are 23 vole species in the United States. This chapter provides range maps, descriptions, and habitat characteristics for seven species that are widespread or cause significant economic damage. Tentative identification of a particular animal may be made using this information. For positive identification, use a field guide or contact an expert.
Prairie Vole (Microtus ochrogaster). The prairie vole is 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm) in total length (nose to tip of tail). Its fur is gray to dark brown and mixed with gray, yellow, or hazeltipped hairs, giving it a “peppery” appearance. Underparts are gray to yellow-gray. It is the most common vole in prairie habitats.
Meadow Vole (M. pennsylvanicus). The meadow vole is the most widely distributed Microtus species in the United States. Its total length is 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches (14 to 19 cm) and its fur is gray to yellow-brown, obscured by black-tipped hairs. Northern subspecies may also have some red in their fur. Its underparts are gray, at times washed with silver or buff. The tail is bicolored.
Long-tailed Vole (M. longicaudus). The long-tailed vole can be distinguished from other Microtus species by its tail, which comprises 30% or more of its total length of 6 to 8 1/2 inches (15 to 21 cm). The long-tailed vole has gray to dark brown fur with many black-tipped hairs. The underparts are gray mixed with some white or yellow. The tail is indistinctly to sharply bicolored.
Pine or Woodland Vole (M. pinetorum). The pine vole is a small vole. Its total length is 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm). Its brown fur is soft and dense. The underparts are gray mixed with some yellow to cinnamon. The tail is barely bicolored or unicolored.
Montane (or Mountain) Vole (M. montanus). The montane vole is 5 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches (15 to 20 cm) in total length. Its fur is brown, washed with gray or yellow, and mixed with some black-tipped hairs. Its feet are usually silver-gray and its body underparts are whitish. The tail is bicolored.
Oregon Vole (M. oregoni). The Oregon vole is 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches (14 to 16 cm) in length. Its fur is gray to brown or yellow-brown. Underparts are darkish, washed with yellow to white. The tail is indistinctly bicolored.
California Vole (M. californicus). The California vole is 6 to 8 1/2 inches (15 to 20 cm) in total length. Its fur is tawny olive to cinnamon brown with brown to black overhairs. The underparts are grayish. The tail is bicolored.
Exclusion: Recommended to protect trees, ornamental plants, and small areas.
Habitat Modification: Eliminating ground cover reduces populations. Soil cultivation destroys burrows and reduces cover.
Frightening: Not effective.
Repellents: Effectiveness uncertain.
Toxicants: Zinc phosphide. Anticoagulants (registered in most states).
Fumigants: Not usually effective.
Trapping: Mouse snap traps. Live traps (Sherman or box-type traps).
Shooting: Not practical or effective.