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THROUGH THE WOODS: Columbia County lemmings?


HARD TO BELIEVE, but we do have small rodents related to lemmings. One of the abundant members of this group is voles. I threw a handful of corn onto the lawn for the birds and saw some movement near a rock feature. A small, mouse-like animal shot out to grab a kernel of corn and disappeared back into the rocks. Looking straight at its face it looked like a lemming, close-set small eyes, a short tail, and small furry ears. It was however an eastern meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus, the most abundant of our voles.

Vole. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

Voles are despised by golfers, farmers and gardeners because they eat seeds, tubers, roots, and most vegetation, and can girdle tree bark near the roots. Some of my family members have lost their fruit trees to voles. Tree trunks must be protected with wire cloth or wrap designed for this application. I had seen vole tunnels on the lawn when the snow melted, and these well-trodden paths led straight to my front flower bed. The daffodils are not touched, and it is hard to determine what may have been eaten until the growing season progresses. I thought about watching the vole activity out of curiosity until reading garden sites like Dave’s Garden and exterminator accounts. It is not good to have them nearby. They are however important food for many including milk and garter snakes as well as fish, owls, hawks, ravens, crows, foxes, bobcats, weasels, coyotes, and some unusual birds such as great blue herons. Domestic and feral cats plus dogs relish them too.

One female vole may produce over 50 young in a season and there may be up to 100 voles in an acre of land. It is good that life expectancy is a short 6 months in the wild. Interesting uses of voles are ongoing studies of the DNA and neurology of our monogamous prairie voles—what makes them court and pair for their short lives, and will it help us understand human love?

Meadow voles are not faithful mates. Archeologists have used their Vole Clock to date layers of a dig. Voles are and have been almost everywhere on Earth for a million years. Their species and abundant teeth give time period estimates but there are differing opinions on the accuracy.

My last investigation was how to get rid of voles around my house and flowers. Amazon Online has an extensive array of live traps and kill traps. I won’t use inhumane sticky traps or poison. Poisoned animals will likely be eaten and harm other wildlife. Garden and farming sites have advice in addition to exterminator services and landscapers. Wish me luck. Voles will be a long spring and summer project.

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