The meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) makes its burrows along surface runways in grasses or other herbaceous vegetation. It is the most widely distributed small grazing herbivore in North America and is found over most of the northern half of the United States. Meadow voles have been used in bioassays to indicate the presence of toxins in their foods (Kendall and Sherwood, 1975, cited in Reich, 1981; Schillinger and Elliot, 1966). Although primarily terrestrial, the meadow vole also is a strong swimmer (Johnson and Johnson, 1982).
The meadow vole measures 8.9 to 13 cm in length (head and body) and has a 3.6- to 6.6-cm tail. They weigh between 20 and 40 g depending on age, sex, and location (see table). Mature males are approximately 20 percent heavier than females (Boonstra and Rodd, 1983). Meadow voles lose weight during the winter, reaching a low around February, then regain weight during spring and summer, reaching a high around August in many populations (see table; Iverson and Turner, 1974).
The meadow vole inhabits grassy fields, marshes, and bogs (Getz, 1961a). Compared with the prairie vole, the meadow vole prefers fields with more grass, more cover, and fewer woody plants (Getz, 1985; Zimmerman, 1965). The meadow vole also tends to inhabit moist to wet habitats, whereas the prairie vole is relatively uncommon in sites with standing water (Getz, 1985).
Meadow voles consume green succulent vegetation, sedges, seeds, roots, bark, fungi, insects, and animal matter (see table). They are agricultural pests in some areas, feeding on pasture, hay, and grain (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Burt and Grossenheider, 1980). At high population densities, the meadow vole has been known to girdle trees, which can damage orchards (Byers, 1979, cited in Reich, 1981). In seasonal habitats, meadow voles favor green vegetation when it is available and consume other foods more when green vegetation is less available (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Riewe, 1973; Getz, 1985). Although Zimmerman (1965) found some evidence of food selection, he found that meadow voles generally ate the most common plants in their habitat. Meadow voles living on prairies consume more seeds and fewer dicots and monocots than voles in a bluegrass habitat (Lindroth and Batzli, 1984). The meadow vole's large cecum allows it to have a high digestive efficiency of 86 to 90 percent (Golley, 1960). Coprophagy (eating of feces) has been observed in this species (Ouellete and Heisinger, 1980).
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