Voles (Meadow Mice)

California Vole (Meadow Mouse) – Microtus californicus

The California Vole (Microtus californicus), is one of six species of voles in California also referred to as Meadow mouse, Field mouse or Meadow vole. Voles have short legs and short furry tails, small eyes and a thick body. Fur is usually blackish/grayish brown; adults are 5 to 8 inches long, including the tail. Voles form the subfamily Arvicolinae with Lemmings and muskrats. There are approximately 155 different species of voles. They have a gopher-type body but the face of a mouse. Voles eat a variety of grasses, plants, bulbs, tree bark and roots and store seeds and other plant food in their underground burrows. Their numbers fluctuate from year to year; most problems around the home, garden, and landscape occur during years when there has been an increase in population.

How to Identify Vole Damage

Vole trails are referred to as “runways.” Inset is a close-up of an entrance point.

The California vole is more like a pocket gopher, creating a system of tunnels underground but closer to the surface. These tunnels are often referred to as “vole runways.” You can also tell a vole from gopher damage to your grass because the vole holes, or “entrance points” near the runways, are devoid of mounds.

Reproduction and Behavior

Voles make their burrows underground. They do like tall, grassy areas where they can hide from predators. Active by day and night, voles scurry through their tunnels to shallow underground burrows where they make their nests of grass, leaves, and stems. Females mature within 5 weeks and can have 5 to 10 litters per year, with 3 to 6 babies each. If they are able to avoid predators like hawks and other wildlife, voles may live up to a year.
Drawing of a California Vole (Meadow Mouse)

Voles travel through tunnels just under the surface of the ground or in heavy grass.

Voles as Pest

Since voles spend most of the time underground and eat various grasses, plants, and bulbs, they rarely are seen in the home. Any damage they cause is most likely to vegetable gardens and some flowering plants. Voles will also chew the bark of fruit trees near and under the ground. Treating voles with bait is difficult because their burrows and tunnels are so close to the surface where domestic animals and birds might also have access to the poison. Clearly, if children are playing in grassy areas infested with voles, it can be very dangerous for them should they step into a vole entrance.  This also applies to horses and other large animals. If voles have become a pest in your landscape and/or garden, it is best to have a professional pest service properly identify and treat them accordingly.

Voles prefer tall grass, that’s why it’s a good idea to mow often.

Prevention and Habitat Modification

Voles often create havoc in the landscape and/or garden but there are ways to prevent voles from damaging a landscape by creating an environment much less suitable for habitation. Since voles like heavy areas of vegetation and prefer not to eat out in the open where there could be predators, mowing the lawn frequently and reducing dense vegetation, weeds, and heavy mulch, will keep them from creating burrows.

Vole Runways

Another deterrent is tilling grassy areas along banks and field edges. For gardens, keeping a wide, weed-free strip around the garden works as a buffer against voles crossing over into it. You can also protect fruit trees with a vegetation-free, 4-foot circle around the base of your trees or use wire meshing. For information on other types of rodents as pests, please visit our pages on Gophers and Squirrels, Rat and Mice Control, and Moles.

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