Fact vs. Fiction: Voles


August 10, 2013

Fiction: Vole is just another name for field mouse.
Fact: Voles are frequently called field mice or meadow mice, but they occupy a different branch of the taxonomic family tree than mice. They’re from the family Cricetidae (North American species comprise the subfamily Arvicolinae). By contrast, mice are from the family Muridae. A vole has a more rounded head, smaller eyes and ears, and a shorter, hairy tail than a mouse. A vole’s mouth contains sharp, angular molars instead of the rounded cusp molars of a mouse.

Fiction: Vole numbers are so large because they live so long.
Fact: Voles typically live 12 months or less. Females mature in less than two months; they’ll have five to 10 litters per year, each with three to six young. They breed year-round and their numbers fluctuate with the availability and favorability of their environments. The majority of newborn voles rarely live to see their 2-month birthday.

Fiction: Vole damage is largely confined to damage from their burrows.
Fact: While their excavation activities are problematic, voles’ voracious attacks on various garden plants, turf, landscape plantings and the girdling of small trees (especially fruit trees) cause them to be an expensive pest to manage. To add insult to injury, seasonal changes (such as snow cover) does little to deter them from tunneling in snow and causing damage further up tree trunks than they could otherwise reach. After the winter thaw, many a homeowner has discovered extensive vole damage around their foundation plantings.

Fiction: Any kind of rodent bait is fine for voles.
Fact: Voles aren’t particularly difficult to kill; however, state and local regulations often stipulate what they’ll allow because of environmental regulations. Check with your local Department of Agriculture for its recommendations, and always use a product labeled for voles and follow the directions. Anticoagulants are effective, but those containing brodifacoum or bromadiolone (both common in over-the-counter rat and mouse control products) should be avoided or used with extreme care because of their risk to nontarget species.

Fiction: The best way to rid an area of voles is to fill the tunnels with gas (kerosene, lighter fluid) and light a match.
Fact: We recently learned about a story involving a homeowner filling the tunnels with kerosene, lighting a match and watching his lawn incinerate. Vole tunnels are shallow with many openings, so flooding, fuming, electromagnetic or ultrasonic bombardment methods aren’t effective. Prevention and managing the areas by reducing or removing cover (leaves, mulch, berms, etc.) and employing a system of fencing, exclusion, repelling, trapping and baiting are your weapons. There’s no one way. You’ll win the battle only with layers of intervention. pmp

You can reach the McGoverns at jeffreymcgovern@mindspring.com

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