Voles are a type of rodent similar to the mouse, famously known for damaging the roots of your lawn, trees, and shrubs. There are 124 species of voles in the Northern Hemisphere, with 23 species commonly found throughout the United States, including the prairie vole, meadow vole, pine vole, and Oregon vole. With other names, like meadow mice, field mice, meadow moles, and ground moles, they are easily confused with mice, hamsters, shrews, moles, and other types of rodents.
What do voles look like?
Surprisingly, voles look nothing like moles! Closely related to the hampster, voles share many of the same features, with brown and grey fur and short leg. They typically average 3-7 inches long, including the tail, and weigh in at about 2 ounces. To distinguish voles from the common mouse, voles have small, furry ears, very small eyes, and short tails. They have a blunt snout with chisel-shaped front teeth.
North America is home to a smaller variety of voles compared to their European cousins, with an average lifespan of 3-6 months, rarely living longer than a year in the wild. In captivity, these rodents can live to nearly three years of age.
What are the unique characteristics of voles?
Voles do not become active in a particular season but are active at all times during the year, day and night. Non-hibernating creatures, voles are some of the most rapidly breeding rodents, producing between 5-10 litters per year with anywhere from 3-6 offspring in each litter.
Voles are semifossorial, meaning they live both above ground and in tunnels. Their burrows contain multiple entrances and may house multiple adults and offspring. The population of voles in one area can fluctuate from year to year, depending on access to food, environmental stressors, and predators.
Due to the vast number of voles across the globe, voles can differ quite drastically from one species to another. The European water vole can swim up to 50 ft. underwater, while the red tree vole is an excellent climber and can be found living in trees across the Northwest.
What are the habits of voles?
Voles are herbivorous, mostly consuming grasses and plants. However, voles can also consume the roots of your lawn, trees, and plants, as they make their way through their tunnels. Voles consume their weight in food every day, gnawing away at their favorite vegetation until they kill the plant. You can often identify the presence of voles by the runway paths they leave on top of your lawn, often leading to the entrance of an underground tunnel system. The grass on their runways will be well maintained and free of obstacles, allowing them to quickly move from one entrance to another.
Where are voles commonly found?
Preferring plenty of ground cover, voles can be found in areas of dense grass and brush, like fields, meadows, woodlands, and along rivers and lakes. Their nests are underground, with a globe-like center and multiple tunnels leading to entrances. Voles will store seeds in their underground chambers leading up to winter. These entrances are also hidden in dense ground cover to avoid being noticed when coming out of their nests. Closer to homes, these entrances may be under shrubs or everyday items that remain stagnant around the yard.
What are the risks of having a vole infestation?
Voles pose no health risks to humans, as they rarely interact together. However, voles do pose a risk to your lawn, trees, and shrubs. By eating the roots of your trees and the bark near the tree base, voles can do significant damage to your tree's health, causing a delay or total lack of fruit production.
What are the best DIY vole treatment methods?
If you’re looking for some natural home remedies to prevent voles from causing further damage to your garden, here are some of the best DIY methods:
- Garlic: This eco- and family-friendly solution is not only inexpensive but also has long-lasting effects. Given the strong odor put off by garlic cloves, voles are deterred from coming near anything giving off its distinct smell. Simply place a clove around the plants most susceptible to vole damage in your yard and they will refrain from coming near any trace of garlic’s odor.
- Wire Mesh: This is a great method for anyone looking for a way to keep voles out for a longer duration of time. Wire mesh can easily be cut to size and placed around the roots of your plants to prevent voles from burrowing into the soil. Once they are unable to feed off the vegetation in your garden, they will go elsewhere in search of more favorable conditions.
- Cayenne Pepper: While great for cooking, this hot and spicy ingredient is highly irritating to voles trying to feed off your garden. Cayenne pepper is an easy and natural way to keep voles away from your plants. Add a few teaspoons of powdered cayenne pepper to a spray bottle filled with water and apply as needed around areas of your yard frequented by voles.
How can I prevent voles?
The best way to keep your garden free from voles is by taking measures to prevent them from causing damage in the first place. Here are some of the top prevention steps we recommend:
- Cultivate your soil regularly and add a layer of gravel beneath the surface. Both methods are a great way to not only destroy any existing tunnels or burrows created by voles but also prevent them from returning due to their inability to dig through gravel.
- Add vole-repelling plants to the mix in your garden. Plants like hellebore, tulips, and rosemary function as natural deterrents for voles looking to feed off your vegetation. Simply add these plants amongst the variety of your garden and voles will stay far away!
- Fence in your garden to prevent voles from breaching your vegetation. This is a simple and effective way to keep them from entering your garden in the first place. You can also install an underground fence about two feet deep around the barrier for a more discreet form of protection.