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What is a Prairie Vole?

Carol Francois
Carol Francois

A prairie vole is a small mammal found in North America. These animals have fur that is gray and brown on the top of their body and yellow fur on the bottom. Their ears and tails are short and they have quick movements.

This animal is also known as Microtus Ochrogaster, which translated into small ear, yellow bellied. The prairie vole is found in the grasslands of Canada and the United States. The prairie vole is considered a pest if they live in cities, as they are active burrowers. A backyard or garden with voles has a series of small holes and underground tunnels.

The prairie vole is active all year, with no hibernation period. They live in underground tunnels and burrows. The tunnels can grow to become quite long and are used to access food while hiding from predators.

The vole is a social animal, living in colonies or large, multi-family groups. Many researchers have noticed very human like behavior when in groups. They are active during the day in colder weather, but are otherwise nocturnal.

The life expectancy of a vole is no more than two years. This is due to the wide number of predators, which include hawks, foxes, and snakes. They are herbivores, mainly eating grass, roots, and bark.


Voles usually breed in the fall and spring and are monogamous. These couples form life long bonds, sharing all parental responsibilities, grooming and nests. The vole couple is unusually as they continue to live together, even outside of mating season. This partnership does not include their sexual behavior. Voles have been known to have sex with other voles, and then return to their primary partner.

It takes 20 to 30 days to produce a litter of two to seven babies. Eight days after birth, the babies open their eyes. The number of babies in a litter is dependent on the availability of resources and the mother's age. Each female will have two or three litters of babies and they will usually stay in the same nest for all of them.

The vole is a territorial animal, marking it with urine and other bodily secretions. When approaching a challenger or an enemy, they rise up on their forefeet, move the head forward into an aggressive posture and chatter their teeth. This behavior is typically seen during mating season.

The prairie vole is often the source of behavior study due to their monogamous habits and social interaction. They are relatively easy to access and can provide a wealth of information and insight during their short lives. The use of small cameras inserted into the nests has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of this group tremendously.

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