Mammal Species of the World
- Original description: Cope, E.D., 1868. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 20:2.
Lemmiscus curtatus is found in the western United States and Canada, primarily in the Great Basin and Great Plains regions. Its range extends from southern Saskatchewan and Alberta to northern Colorado, to the west coast of the United States. (Nowak, 1999)
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Washington, central Idaho, southern Alberta, and southern Saskatchewan south to east-central California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, northern Colorado, and the western Dakotas.
Pelage is pale gray and buff dorsally, with silver, white, and buff ventrally. Their fur is dense and is usually longer and softer than that of Microtus. Head and body length is usually 90 to130 mm, and tail length ranges from 16 to30 mm. Body weight is between 17 to 38 grams. Their body appears to be stocky. Adaptations for burrowing in loose soil are haired palms and soles, short tail, stout claws, and small ears. (Nowak, 1999)
Range mass: 17 to 38 g.
Range length: 106 to 160 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 14 cm
Weight: 38 grams
Habitat and Ecology
They eat almost any green plant material, including Bromus (but not the ripe seeds) and other grasses, leaves, flowers and stalks of Eriogonum, and some Artemisia leaves. Castilleja and Lupinus are the most common foods in June and August, respectively, in Idaho. They are active essentially throughout the day, year round, but the main activity period is two to three hours before sunset to two to three hours after full darkness, and a similar period around sunrise.
Sagebrush voles inhabit areas largely dominated by bunch grasses and sagebrush. Semi-arid prairies, brushy canyons, and rolling hills with loose soil are preferred habitats. (Nowak, 1999)
Habitat Regions: temperate
Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; scrub forest
Comments: Semi-arid prairies, rolling hills, brushy canyons, with loose, well-drained soil (may be rocky). Vegetation usually dominated by sagebrush and bunchgrasses, especially crested wheatgrass. Nests in underground burrow.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Sagebrush voles are herbivores, and feed upon the flowers and fleshy parts of vegetation, but not the seeds. Newly harvested vegetation may be piled before it is consumed, and it is often brought into burrows. There is no evidence of food caching in this species. They often forage under shrub canopy and grass cover, and may climb in to shrubs to feed. They are also known to steal from other individual’s food piles. (Brylski and Harris, 2001; Mullican and Keller, 1986; Nowak, 1999)
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Comments: Eats almost any green plant material, including Bromus (but not the ripe seeds) and other grasses, leaves, flowers and stalks of Eriogonum, and some Artemisia leaves. Castilleja and Lupinus are the most common foods in June and August, respectively, in Idaho.
Sagebrush voles are important food for a variety of predatory species.
Predators include owls, hawks, snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and badgers. (Brylski and Harris, 2001)
Sagebrush voles may evade predators by burrowing, restricting activity to locations under vegetation, remaining cryptic, and by living in colonies or extended families.
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Population density fluctuates widely (<1-20/ha in different areas at different seasons in Idaho (Mullican and 1986). In Idaho, apparently occurs singly or in pairs during warm season; may nest communally in winter (Mullican and Keller 1987).
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Active essentially throughout day, year round, but main activity period is 2-3 hours before sunset to 2-3 hours after full darkness, and a similar period around sunrise.
Information on lifespan in L. curtatus is not available. However, other voles are known to live an average of less than one month (Microtus pennsylvanicus) to a maximum in captivity of nearly four years (M. guentheri). (Nowak, 1999)
Reports regarding the mating system of this species are variable. The weight of evidence seems to support the conclusion that sagebrush voles are monogamous.
Mullican and Keller (1986) reported that these animals live in male-female pairs in the wild, indicating a monogamous existence. One captive study confirmed that males and females share a single nest during the post-partum period, as is common for monogamous microtine rodents (Hofmann, et al., 1989). In species known to be polygynandrous, males inhabit separate nests. Also, in their breeding colony, pups often continued to inhabit the parental nest when another litter was born. This supports the notion that local concentrations of animals seen in the wild represent extended families, living in a somewhat colonial fashion.
However, not all of the data collected by Hofmann, et al (1989) were consistent with a monogamous breeding system. They also showed that males and females did not coordinate their activity to ensure that at least one parent was always with the pups, as has been reported for monogamous species. Further, males spent very little time caring for the pups, which is uncommon for monogamous species, and is very common in polygynous species. Further research is needed to clarify the mating system of this rodent.
Mating System: monogamous
Sagebrush voles breed year round, although in the northern portion of their range they generally breed only from March to early December. The estrous cycle of sagebrush voles is approximately 20 days, and within 24 hours after giving birth, a postpartum estrus occurs. A litter of 5 is average, with a range from 1 to 13. Gestation usually lasts between 24 to 25 days. Captive members of this species have been known to produce 14 litters in one year, but in the wild average 2 to 3 litters per year. Females in the wild may live together while raising young, or males and females may nest together.
Young are born naked and blind in an underground nest chamber composed of leaves, shredded sagebrush bark, and grass stems. At birth, young weigh approximately 1.5 grams. They open their eyes at 11 days, and by 21 days they are usually self-sufficient. (Brylski and Harris, 2001; Nowak, 1999)
Males may be aggressive, particularly during breeding. Sexual maturity for females is reached around 60 days, and for males between 60 and 75 days. (Brylski and Harris 2001; Hofmann et al. 1989; Nowak, 1999)
Breeding season: Lemmiscus curtatus breeds throughout the year, although in the northern part of its range, breeding may be confined to the period between March and December.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 13.
Average number of offspring: 5.
Range gestation period: 24 to 25 days.
Average weaning age: 21 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 60 to 75 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 60 to 75 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous
The young are altricial. In captivity, both male and female care for the young. Because males and females have been reported to nest together in the wild (Mullican and Keller, 1986), this probably occurs in wild populations also. Hofmann, et al. (1989) showed that females generally spent more time alone in th nest than did males. They also groomed pups more frequently than did males. Frequency of grooming the pups decreased as the pups aged.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th Edition. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Hofmann, J., B. McGuire, T. Pizzuto. 1989. Parental care in the sagebrush vole (*Lemmiscus curtatus*). Journal of Mammalogy, 70: 162-165.
- Mullican, T., B. Keller. 1986. Ecology of the sagebrush vole (*Lemmiscus curtatus*) in southeastern Idaho. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 64: 1218-1223.
- Brylski, P., J. Harris. 2001. "Sagebrush Vole" (On-line). Accessed October 23, 2001 at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/whdab/html/M138.html.
Appears to breed year round, but possibly not in winter in north. Decline in breeding activity in summer. Up to three litters in a season. Gestation averages 25 days. Average litter size is 4-6.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Population densities of 4-16 per hectare have been found in southeastern Idaho. Demographic patterns of Lemmiscus are different when compared to vole species that experience annual or multiannual population fluctuations. Much of the original range of sagebrush voles has been altered as a result of agriculture and overgrazing. (Brylski and Harris, 2001; Mullican and Keller, 1986; Nowak, 1999)
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
No negative interactions with humans have been reported in the literature.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
This species is not known to directly benefit humans. However, as a prey species, sagebrush voles provide food for charismatic megafauna.
They are somewhat similar in appearance to lemmings. They have chunky bodies with short legs and a very short tail which is covered in fur and lighter below. They have fluffy dull grey fur with lighter underparts. They are 12 cm long with a 2 cm tail and weigh about 27 g.
These animals are found in dry open brushy areas in the western United States and southern parts of western Canada. They feed on grasses and leaves in summer and sagebrush, bark and twigs in winter. Predators include owls, coyotes, bobcats and weasels.
Female voles have 5 or more litters of 4 to 6 young in a year. The young are born in a nest in a burrow.
They are active year round, day and night, but are usually more active near sunrise and sunset. They make trails through the surface vegetation and also dig underground burrows with many entrances. They burrow under the snow in winter. These animals are often found in colonies.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Described originally as Arvicola curtata. Lemmiscus was proposed as a subgenus to differentiate this species from Old World Lagurus lagurus. Subsequently, Lemmiscus has been treated as a genus (Carleton and Musser 1984) or as a subgenus of Lagurus (Carroll and Genoways 1980, Hall 1981, Honacki et al. 1982). Jones et al. (1992), Baker et al. (2003), and Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005) regarded Lemmiscus as a distinct genus. This species is associated with Microtus based on certain morphological traits and DNA data, but phylogenetic affinity is uncertain (see Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005).