Discover Nature: Voles

Jan 16, 2018

Voles, or meadow mice, store food in underground chambers and above ground caches to help them survive winters in Missouri. While the ground may be frozen and blanketed in snow, these rodents remain active below. Voles are often considered a nuisance, but they have important impacts on Missouri’s ecosystem.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature, voles - also called meadow mice - are busy working through the winter under snow and soil.

Voles, often confused with moles and shrews, are more mouse-like. These small, stocky brown rodents have short tails, small ears, and a blunt, rounded snout.

Three species of voles call Missouri home: prairie voles and woodland voles reside statewide, while the meadow vole only inhabits the northern part of the state.

Voles build runway systems above- and below-ground, and they construct nests of woven grasses and other materials.

They eat tender stems, leaves, roots, tubers, flowers, seeds, fruits, insects, and other small animals.

When food is scarce, voles eat the inner bark of trees, shrubs, and vines. They store food in chambers near the nest, and often aboveground, in hollow stumps and other hiding places. A single cache may hold two-gallons of tubers, roots, and small bulbs.

Voles can sometimes be a nuisance, but their burrowing works the soil, mixing-in their stores of food and waste products, helping soil health and plant growth. They’re also a major food source for many predators including foxes and owls.

Learn more about voles with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.