DALS WILDLIFE SITE { WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND}

WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

The field vole--Microtus agrestis

Field voles belong to the family Cricetidae and the subfamily Arvicolinae in the order Rodentia, and placed in the genus Microtus. They have been referred to as the short tailed vole and short tailed field mouse. In archaic times it was referred to as the meadow mouse.

It is a burrowing animal, and takes up its winter quarters either in a burrow of its own digging or in the deserted run of the mole. In summer it lives and often nests in tall and coarse herbage by the sides of ponds and tall meadow grasses. During the summer they seldom frequent very dry grounds. At all times they prefer fleshy and pulpy roots to any other kind of food, and they form the main stay diet of the field vole during the summer. { although when the grain is in the fields it will visit them too!} Their favourite roots are most abundant and most easily dug out in soft grounds and this is the reason the animal prefers it.

No kind of vegetable matter seems to come amiss to this little rodent, the food consisting of various seeds, grass, clover, fruit, berries, corn, beech mast, turnips, nuts potatoes etc. By the very nature of their diet voles can be very destructive in gardens, allotments, arable fields and even in forests. However, they also take a great number of insects among them the destructive larch sawfly. The vole has extensive underground stores where it stockpiles food for winter use. 

Gamekeepers mistake.

In the past, when gamekeepers have persecuted weasels and owls almost out of existence in a locality, the numbers of voles rose dramatically and some times to plague proportions, birds of prey and any short eared owls that escaped persecution, would move in to quell their numbers. At one point in our history the damage done by voles to arable land,that a Government Committee was appointed to inquire into it, and it was found that the field vole was the chief culprit. According to author of The Animal Life of the British Isles {1921} -Edward Step states--" Fortunately when things were at their worst, a vast number of short eared owls appeared on the scene and feasted royally until there was scarcely a vole to be found. It was shown by the Vole Committee of 1893, referred to above, that the rook destroys great numbers of field voles, not only the adults that chance to cross fields where they are digging for cockchaffer grubs, but that they systematically search for nests of the field vole and eat the young"

Rooks take a great number of baby field voles by seeking out their nest.

Rooks Photograph by Dal.

Description of the field vole.

The body length of this species is about 8-13 cm with a tail of 2.5 cm, which is distinctly dark above and about a third of its body length. 

Courtesy of Fer boei  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Aardmuis.jpg

 

The general stumpy form with the blunt ,oval outline of the head, and short round ears,just protruding  from the shaggy,reddish-brown fur are the characteristics that distinguish this species from mice. the under side of the field vole is greyish white. The hind feet have six pads on the under surface compared with five of the water vole.

Breeding and young of the field vole.

The nest is constructed entirely of vegetable fibres and the number of young in a litter averages about six. it is a popular misconception that the underground burrows contain the summer nest. the burrows connect with a network of of above ground runs through the grass and herbage with occasional holes that enable the vole to run or creep along them without being seen by birds of prey that fly over head. however, the vole is not as successful at eluding owls which hunt much closer to the ground.

Beside a dense tuft of grass, along one of the runs, the female constructs her nest, roofed with a circular dome of grass blades, divided longitudinally and plaited together. There is nothing to distinguish it from the surroundings, so that only an trained to find it, would see it. It may be encountered by close observation, looking for the finer character { due to shredding} of the grass. The parents enter or emerge from any point under the edge of the dome. Should anything happen upon the nest the mother will bolt immediately leaving the babies to the mercy of the intruder.

The young are naked at birth and may number 5,6 or 7 there are several litters produced in a season.  

Courtesy of Manuel R CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Microtus agrestis.JPG

Breeding success.

Many birds of prey rely on the breeding success of this fecund little rodent to be able to raise families of their own. Once again an example of the surplus of one species feeding another. Should the field vole have a bad breeding season for whatever reason the impact on the ability of many birds of prey to have successful breeding seasons themselves is greatly diminished.

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