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Overview

Brief Summary

The prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) represents the ground-burrowing members of the new world voles. This vole is found in the north and central plains of the United States and in southern Canada, usually in dry places such as prairies and along fencerows and railroads. Its range has expanded eastward to West Virginia as a result of clear-cutting of forests (Jones et al., 1983). Voles are active by day or night (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Although prairie and meadow voles usually occupy different habitats, where they coexist their population densities tend to be negatively correlated (Klatt, 1985; Krebs, 1977).

The prairie vole measures from 8.9 to 13 cm in length and has a 3.0- to 4.1-cm tail (Burt and Grossenheider, 1980). After reaching sexual maturity, voles continue to grow for several months (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Adults weigh from 30 to 45 g (see table). Prairie voles maintain a relatively constant proportion of their body weight as fat (15 to 16 percent on a dry-weight basis) throughout the year (Fleharty et al., 1973).

The prairie vole inhabits a wide variety of prairie plant communities and moisture regimes, including riparian, short-grass, or tall-grass communities (Kaufman and Fleharty, 1974). Prairie voles prefer areas of dense vegetation, such as grass, alfalfa, or clover (Carroll and Getz, 1976); their presence in a habitat depends on suitable cover for runways (Kaufman and Fleharty, 1974). They will tolerate sparser plant cover than the meadow vole because the prairie vole usually nests in burrows at least 50 mm underground or in grass nests under logs or boards (Klatt and Getz, 1987).

Meadow voles, as other voles, are largely herbivorous, consuming primarily green succulent vegetation but also roots, bark, seeds, fungi, arthropods, and animal matter (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Lomolino, 1984; Stalling, 1990). Voles have masticatory and digestive systems that allow them to digest fibrous grasses such as cereals (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Diet varies by season and habitat according to plant availability, although meadow and other voles show a preference for young, tender vegetation (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Martin, 1956). Voles can damage pastures, grasslands, crops such as hay and grain, and fruit trees (by eating bark and roots) (Johnson and Johnson, 1982).

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Description

"The Prairie Vole builds well-defined runways on and below ground. Surface runways are often well worn and bare of vegetation; sometimes they are covered with a layer of grass clippings. The abundance of these runways is a good index of the size of the Vole's local population. Unlike most voles, and in fact, most mammals, Prairie Voles appear to be monogamous: male-female breeding pairs stay together. Offspring are born hairless yet develop rapidly, acquiring a brown furry coat by day two, crawling three days later, and eating solid food by day 12. They are weaned at 2-3 weeks, and fully grown by two months."

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
  • Original description: In Schreber, J.C.D., 1842.  Die saugthiere in abbildungen nach der natur mit beschreibunger von&Schreber&Fortgesetzt von dr. Johann Andreas Wagner&Supplementband 3. abth. Erlangen, Expedition des Schreberschen saugthier und des Esperschen schmetterlingswerkes. 1840-44 (supplements 1-4) p. 592.
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: East-central Alberta, central Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba south through northern Oklahoma and Arkansas, east to Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, central Tennessee, and westernmost Virginia; relictual populations occur in central Colorado, northern New Mexico, and (formerly) southwestern Louisiana and adjacent Texas (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993).

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Range Description

This species ranges throughout the prairie states of the United States and northward into the south-central provinces of Canada. It occurs in east-central Alberta, central Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba south through northern Oklahoma and Arkansas, east to Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, central Tennessee, and westernmost Virginia; relictual populations occur in central Colorado, northern New Mexico, and (formerly) southwestern Louisiana and adjacent Texas (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993). The disjunct subspecies (M. o. ludovicianus), previously found in east Texas and western Louisiana, is apparently extinct.
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Geographic Range

Prairie voles, Microtus_ochrogaster, occur from northeastern New Mexico to northern Alabama, western West Virginia, and northwest to central Alberta.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Stalling, D. 1990. *Microtus ochrogaster*. Mammalian Species, 355: 1-9.
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Geographic Range

Prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster, occur from northeastern New Mexico to northern Alabama, western West Virginia, and northwest to central Alberta.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Stalling, D. 1990. *Microtus ochrogaster*. Mammalian Species, 355: 1-9.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Prairie voles usually have dark brown to black hairs that are tipped with black or brownish-yellow. This makes the fur look grizzled. In spite of this, some animals may have black, yellow, albino, or spotted fur. The belly is light tan, and the tail is dark on top and light on the bottom.

Female prairie voles have three pairs of mammary glands. All members of the species can be identified using their teeth, which have some unique ridges on them. The third lower molar has no closed triangles and three transverse loops. The third upper molar has two closed triangles.

Adults are 125 to 180 mm long, with the tail adding 25 to 45 mm to this total. Hind foot length is 17 to 23 mm, ear length is 10 to 15 mm, and weights are typically between 30 and 70 grams. Males and females are about the same size and color.

Range mass: 30 to 70 g.

Range length: 125 to 180 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.41 W.

  • Stalling, D. 1999. Prairie vole| Microtus ochrogaster . D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.
  • University of Kansas, 2000. "*Microtus ochrogaster*" (On-line). Mammals of Kansas. Accessed 28 November 2001 at http://www.ksr.ku.edu/libres/Mammals_of_Kansas/microt-ochro.html.
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Physical Description

Microtus ochrogaster maintains uniform coloration throughout the year. It has dark brown to black hair tipped with black or brownish-yellow. This gives a grizzled effect to most of the pelage. The ventrum is light tan. The tail is bicolored. Occasionally, color variants with yellow, black, albino or spotted fur may be found.

Prairie voles have five plantar tubercles on the hind feet and females have three pairs of mammary glands. The third lower molar has no closed triangles and three transverse loops. The third upper molar has two closed triangles.

Adults have a total length of 125 to 180 mm, tail length of 25 to 45 mm, hind foot length of 17 to 23 mm, ear length of 10 to 15 mm, and weight between 30 and 70 grams. There is no significant sexual dimorphism in size or coloration.

Range mass: 30 to 70 g.

Range length: 125 to 180 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.41 W.

  • Stalling, D. 1999. Prairie vole| Microtus ochrogaster . D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.
  • University of Kansas, 2000. "*Microtus ochrogaster*" (On-line). Mammals of Kansas. Accessed 28 November 2001 at http://www.ksr.ku.edu/libres/Mammals_of_Kansas/microt-ochro.html.
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Size

Length: 17 cm

Weight: 48 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: None

Length:
Range: 130-172 mm

Weight:
Range: 37-48 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Lives in upland herbaceous fields; grasslands, old agricultural lands and thickets; places where there is suitable cover for runways. Also reported from jackpine woods. Habitats include ANDROPOGON-POA PRATENSIS meadows in Kansas, ARTEMISIA-grass in Wyoming, FESTUCA-DACTYLIS grasslands in Indiana. Floodplains of rivers serve as dispersal routes in Southwest. Railroad and highway right-of-ways may serve as corridors for dispersal throughout the range. Nests are placed in burrows, under boards or logs, and above ground in grassy clumps. May build winter nests in old anthills. In Kentucky, burrow systems were shallow (within 20 cm of surface), in areas of lush vegetation; burrows may be deeper in areas with colder climate or more friable subsoils (Davis and Kalisz, 1992, J. Mamm. 73:582-585).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
These voles occur in a variety of prairie habitats, as well as upland agricultural habitats. They will inhabit herbaceous fields; grasslands, old agricultural lands and thickets; places where there is suitable cover for runways. Also reported from jackpine woods. Habitats include Andropogon-poa pratensis meadows in Kansas, Festuca-dactylis grasslands in Indiana. Floodplains of rivers serve as dispersal routes in the Southwest. Railroad and highway right-of-ways may serve as corridors for dispersal throughout the range.

Nests are placed in burrows, under boards or logs, and above ground in grassy clumps. It may build winter nests in old anthills. Prairie voles breed year-round, especially spring/fall; peaks in reproduction depend on the availability of moisture. Gestation lasts 20-23 days. There are several litters per year; and one to seven (average three to four) young per litter; litter size varies with season and female size and age. Both parents (and sometimes older siblings) tend neonates. They sexually mature generally by about five to six weeks.

There are three types of social groups: male-female pair, single female, and communal groups of 2-21 individuals (due primarily to increased survival of philopatric juveniles in late fall). Annual home range is rarely more than 1,000 square metres; averages a few hundred square metres. Lifespan generally is one year or less. Most remain at the natal nest until death; those that do disperse leave home at about six to eight weeks and move short distances (e.g., 28 to 30 m; McGuire et al. 1993). Getz (1997) found strong natal philopatry in a low-food habitat in Illinois.

Diet consists almost entirely of vegetation (grasses, forbs) and some insects. Underground tunnel systems frequently are used for feeding on roots. Active both day and night, year-round. Peak activity probably occurs near dusk/dawn. Diurnal activity decreases in summer; nocturnal activity decreases in winter. Prairie voles are important prey species for many predators.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Prairie voles are common in prairies, ungrazed pastures, fallow fields, weedy areas, road right-of-ways, and sometimes in soybean or alfalfa fields. If Microtus pennsylvanicus occur in the same area, prairie voles occupy the areas with shorter, drier, and more varied vegetation.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
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Prairie voles are common in prairies, ungrazed pastures, fallow fields, weedy areas, road right-of-ways, and sometimes in soybean or alfalfa fields. If meadow voles occur in the same area, prairie voles occupy the areas with shorter, drier, and more varied vegetation.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
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Migration

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.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Diet consists almost entirely of vegetation (grasses, forbs); some insects. Underground tunnel systems frequently are used for feeding on roots.

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Food Habits

Prairie voles are herbivorous. Food items include soft basal segments of grasses, tubers and roots, and seeds, which may be stored below ground. Insects are eaten when they are available. In winter, prairie voles sometimes eat the bark of woody vegetation.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

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Food Habits

Prairie voles are herbivorous. Food items include soft basal segments of grasses, tubers and roots, and seeds, which may be stored below ground. Insects are eaten when they are available. In winter, prairie voles sometimes eat the bark of woody vegetation.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Prairie voles are important in nutrient cycling in prairie ecosystems and as prey animals for many predator species.

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Predation

Prairie voles use an extensive runway system comprized of grass tunnels that helps to hide them from predators. Prairie voles are preyed upon by a wide variety of small to medium-sized predators. They are important as a prey base for raptors, owls, snakes, weasels, foxes, and bobcats.

Known Predators:

  • hawks (Accipitridae)
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • shrikes (Lanius)
  • red foxes (Vulpes_vulpes)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)
  • bobcats (Lynx_rufus)
  • weasels (Mustela)
  • snakes (Serpentes)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Ecosystem Roles

Prairie voles are important in nutrient cycling in prairie ecosystems and as prey animals for many predator species.

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Predation

Prairie voles use an extensive runway system comprized of grass tunnels that helps to hide them from predators. Prairie voles are preyed upon by a wide variety of small to medium-sized predators. They are important as a prey base for raptors, owls, snakes, weasels, foxes, and bobcats.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Known predators

Microtus ochrogaster is prey of:
Bubo virginianus
Mustelinae
Canis latrans
Mephitinae
Geomyidae
Spermophilus
Athene cunicularia
Tyto alba
Strigiformes
Serpentes
Accipitridae
Lanius
Mustela
Lynx rufus
Vulpes vulpes
Vulpes velox
Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
  • L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Known prey organisms

Microtus ochrogaster preys on:
Helianthus
Agropyron
Agrostis
Stipa

Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
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General Ecology

Three types of social groups: male-female pair, single female, and communal groups of 2-21 individuals (due primarily to increased survival of philopatric juveniles in late fall) (see Am. Midl. Nat. 128:197, J. Mamm. 74:44-58).

Periodic high densities may occur every 2-4 years (perhaps every 2 years in Oklahoma, where heavy grazing by cattle reduces grass cover and dampens multiyear cycles, Caire et al. 1989). However, some researchers believe that distinct multiannual cycles are not characteristic of this species (see Stall 1990). Average of 25 per ha; may surpass 250 per ha in peak years (Krebs et al. 1969); peaks of >600/ha (J. Mamm. 74:47) and 1060/ha have been reported (see Stall 1990).

Annual home range rarely more than 1000 sq m; averages a few hundred sq m. Lifespan generally is one year or less.

Most remain at the natal nest until death; those that do disperse leave home at about 6-8 weeks and move short distance (e.g., 28-33 m; McGuire et al. 1993). Getz (1997) found strong natal philopatry in a low-food habitat in Illinois.

Important prey species for many predators.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Like other voles, prairie voles probably use several methods of communication. Different squeaks and trills may be used along with scent cues. Touching is important to these animals, allowing communication between mates and the young in their nest. Different body postures may play some role in defensive interactions within the species.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Communication and Perception

As is true of most rodents, communication is likely to involve a number of different mechanisms. Although not specifically reported for these animals, vocalizations are common in rodents, as are scent cues. Tactile communication is important between mates and within a nest containing young. Further, different body postures seem to play some role in defensive interactions within the species.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Active both day and night, year-round. Peak activity probably occurs near dusk/dawn. Diurnal activity decreases in summer; nocturnal activity decreases in winter.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Prairie voles usually live for less than 1 year, but they can live up to 3 years in captivity.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
3 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
1 (high) years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Average longevity is less than 1 year, but prairie voles may live up to 3 years in captivity.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
3 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
1 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 5.3 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, these animals probably live less than a year (Stalling 1990). One wild born specimen was about 5.3 years old when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Breeds year-round, especially spring/fall; peaks in reproduction depend on availability of moisture. Gestation lasts 20-23 days. Several litters per year; 1-7 (average 3-4) young per litter; litter size varies with season and female size and age. Both parents (and sometimes older siblings) tend neonates. Sexually mature generally by about 5-6 weeks. In Illinois, apparently mainly monogamous (Getz et al., 1993, J. Mamm. 74:44-58).

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Prairie voles have different mating systems depending on the season, amount of food available, and their social structure. Some male-female pairs mate only with each other while others mate with multiple partners.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Prairie voles breed all the time, except when it is too cold or too hot. Most reproduction happens between May and October. The lowest levels occur in December and January when it is cold and wet.

Pregnancy lasts 21 days. A mother gives birth to litters of 3 or 4 young. How many young are in a litter depends on the mother's age and the time of year. Young are not very well developed at birth. They have no fur, and both their eyes and ears are closed.

Young grow up quickly, and can crawl by the age of 5 days. Babies eat solid foods by the age of 12 days. After they are 2 to 3 weeks of age, the mother no longer provides her babies with milk. The young probably become independent about this time. Young enter their first molt at about 24 days of age.

Females are able to breed by the time they are 30 to 40 days old. Males take longer to be ready to breed, and cannot do so until they are 35 to 45 days old. Young are full grown by 2 months of age.

Breeding interval: These animals can produce several litters per year. The maximum is about one litter every month and a half.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs year-round.

Range number of offspring: 3 to 4.

Average gestation period: 21 days.

Range weaning age: 2 to 3 weeks.

Average time to independence: 3 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 30 to 45 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 30 to 45 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 3.02 g.

Average gestation period: 23 days.

Average number of offspring: 3.8.

Both males and females care for the young, which are born naked and helpless in a grass-lined nest. The young average 3 grams at birth. Fur appears on the young by the second day, they can crawl by 5 days, begin eating solid food at 12 days, and are weaned between 2 and 3 weeks of age. The young begin to molt into their adult pelage by 24 days and reach their adult size within 2 months of birth.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Stalling, D. 1990. *Microtus ochrogaster*. Mammalian Species, 355: 1-9.
  • Getz, L., C. Carter. 1996. Prairie vole partnerships. American Scientist, 84: 56-62.
  • Stalling, D. 1999. Prairie vole| Microtus ochrogaster . D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.
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Mating systems in prairie voles vary with season, food availability, and communal social structure. Some male-female pairs are monogamous while other males and females are likely to mate with multiple partners.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Prairie voles breed throughout the year except during severe winters and summers. The highest levels of reproductive activity occur between May and October, and the lowest levels in December and January.

Gestation lasts 21 days, after which 3 or 4 hairless young are born. Young are altricial at birth, with both eyes and ears closed. Maternal age, size, and time of year have an effect on litter size.

Young develop rapidly. Within 5 days of birth they are able to crawl. They consume solid foods by the age of 12 days. Weaning occurs at 2 to 3 weeks. Young enter their first molt at about 24 days of age.

Females mature at 30 to 40 days and males at 35 to 45 days. Adult size is reached withing 2 months of birth. Young are independent shortly after weaning.

Breeding interval: These animals can produce several litters per year. The maximum is about one litter every month and a half.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs year-round.

Range number of offspring: 3 to 4.

Average gestation period: 21 days.

Range weaning age: 2 to 3 weeks.

Average time to independence: 3 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 30 to 45 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 30 to 45 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 3.02 g.

Average gestation period: 23 days.

Average number of offspring: 3.8.

Both males and females care for the young, which are born naked and helpless in a grass-lined nest. The young average 3 grams at birth. Fur appears on the young by the second day, they can crawl by 5 days, begin eating solid food at 12 days, and are weaned between 2 and 3 weeks of age. The young begin to molt into their adult pelage by 24 days and reach their adult size within 2 months of birth.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Stalling, D. 1990. *Microtus ochrogaster*. Mammalian Species, 355: 1-9.
  • Getz, L., C. Carter. 1996. Prairie vole partnerships. American Scientist, 84: 56-62.
  • Stalling, D. 1999. Prairie vole| Microtus ochrogaster . D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Microtus ochrogaster

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Chanson, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it is very widespread, common throughout the heart of its range, there are no major threats and it occurs in many protected areas.
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Loss of native prairies is causing a decline in prairie vole populations in parts of the upper Midwest. They are listed as endangered in the state of Michigan.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: endangered

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Loss of native prairies is causing a decline in prairie vole populations in parts of the upper Midwest. They are listed as endangered in the state of Michigan.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: endangered

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
This species is considered secure within its range (NatureServe). Periodic high densities may occur every two to four years (perhaps every two years in Oklahoma, where heavy grazing by cattle reduces grass cover and dampens multiyear cycles, Caire et al. 1989). However, some researchers believe that distinct multiannual cycles are not characteristic of this species (see Stalling 1990). Average of 25 per hectare; may surpass 250 per hectare in peak years (Krebs et al. 1969); peaks of greater than 600 per hectare and 1,060 per hectare have been reported (see Stalling 1990).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Comments: Destruction of grasslands for agricultural purposes has greatly reduced the extent of suitable habitat (Caire et al. 1989). On the other hand, clearing of forests has allowed increase in distribution and abundance along eastern margin of range. In Kansas, moved out of areas subjected to experimental prairie fire (Clark and Kaufman 1990).

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Major Threats
There are no major threats to the species across its entire range. Destruction of grasslands for agricultural purposes has greatly reduced the extent of suitable habitat (Caire et al. 1989). On the other hand, clearing of forests has allowed an increase in distribution and abundance along the eastern margin of its range. In Kansas, it has moved out of areas subjected to experimental prairie fire (Clark and Kaufman 1990).
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Management

Management Requirements: See Stall (1990) for a few references on control of voles.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species is not of conservation concern and its range includes many protected areas.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Regarded as a pest in areas where it damages planted trees.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In places near agricultural fields or gardens, prairie voles may be considered pests. Prairie voles cause damage to trees by stem injury, with pines most commonly affected.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Prairie voles are important parts of the prairie ecosystems in which they live. They have also been used in research for many decades.

Positive Impacts: research and education

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In places near agricultural fields or gardens, prairie voles may be considered pests. Prairie voles cause damage to trees by stem injury, with pines most commonly affected.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Prairie voles are important parts of the prairie ecosystems in which they live. They have also been used in research for many decades.

Positive Impacts: research and education

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Wikipedia

Prairie vole

The prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) is a small vole found in central North America.

The vole has long, coarse grayish-brown fur on the upper portion of the body and yellowish fur on the lower portion of the body. It has short ears and a short tail, which is somewhat darker on top.

Taxonomy and distribution[edit]

The prairie vole's scientific name, Microtus ochrogaster, is derived from Greek; the genus name translates to "small ear" and the specific epithet translates to "yellow belly". They are found in grasslands in the central United States and Canada; ranging from the eastern Rocky Mountains in the west to West Virginia in the east and into the Canadian Prairies to the north.

Habitat[edit]

Prairie voles make shallow underground burrows and runways through surface vegetation. In winter, they tunnel underneath the snow. Their runways are used for many purposes, from predator protection to obtaining food. Prairie voles are easily disturbed. They will not hesitate to use their underground burrows if they notice predators close by or disturbances that pose a threat. Compared to the meadow vole, prairie voles prefer to inhabit drier areas.

Behavior[edit]

Prairie voles are active year-round. In colder weather, they tend to be more active during the day; at other times, they are mainly nocturnal. Prairie voles live in colonies and have been known to exhibit human-like social behavior in groups.[3]

Prairie voles live rarely longer than one or two years. Their life expectancy is based on predator presence and natural factors in their area of inhabitance.

Prairie voles are primarily herbivorous, feeding on grasses, roots, fruit, seeds and bark and some insects. These voles store food. Predators include coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes and snakes. They may cause damage to garden plants and small trees.

Reproduction[edit]

During mating season, prairie voles take up individual territories and defend them from other voles. They mark their territories with urine and other secretions. They assume a defensive posture towards a competitor or enemy by raising the forefeet, extending the head forward, and chattering of the teeth. Outside the mating seasons, the prairie voles live together.

Like other voles, prairie voles can reproduce at any time of the year, but the main breeding seasons are in the fall and the spring. Unlike other voles, prairie voles are generally monogamous. The prairie vole is a notable animal model for studying monogamous behavior and social bonding because male and female partners form lifelong pair bonds, huddle and groom each other, share nesting and pup-raising responsibilities, and generally show a high level of affiliative behavior. However, they are not sexually faithful, and though pair-bonded females usually show aggression toward unfamiliar males, both sexes will occasionally mate with other voles if the opportunity arises.[4]

The female's gestation period is between 20 and 30 days. Female voles have two to four litters of two to seven young per year in a nest lined with vegetation in an underground burrow or in a depression on the ground. Litter size varies depending on food availability and the age of the female. Baby voles open their eyes at about eight days after birth, and become capable of feeding themselves at about two weeks.

Interaction with humans[edit]

Prairie voles are important to the ecosystem. They provide food for predators, but are considered pests by some. Many ways to prevent voles from destroying gardens or other areas are available. Electric repellers and predators (snakes, owls, coyotes, foxes, domestic animals, and hawks) can be used to reduce vole populations. They can also be scared away by plastic ornaments that resemble natural predators.

Though poison is an option to prevent voles, poisoned voles can create a threat to other animals and humans. Voles are prey for other predators. If they are eaten by predators while poisoned, the poison could harm the predator. In addition, when placing poison near vole entrances, other animals may be able to reach it, making it a hazard to them. Moreover, poison left in the field can easily be blown or washed away. In residential areas, the poison itself and poisoned voles can be harmful and/or dangerous to people and domesticated animals. .

Pair bonding[edit]

The prairie vole is special for having pair bonding with its partner. The male prairie vole has a continuous contact with its female, which lasts for all of their lives. If the female prairie vole dies, the male does not look for a new partner. Moreover, this constant relationship is more social than sexual. For this pair bonding to take place, the male must stay one day with the female after they breed. Other species, such as the montane vole, do not show this pair bonding behavior.

Biological factors[edit]

This uniqueness in the prairie vole behavior is related to the oxytocin and vasopressin hormones. The oxytocin receptors of the female prairie vole brain are located more densely in the reward system, and have more receptors than other species, which causes a sort of an 'addiction' to the social behavior. In the male prairie vole, the gene for the vasopressin receptor has a longer segment, as opposed to the montane vole, which has a smaller segment. This segment is longer in other bonding animals (such as humans[citation needed]), and shorter in other nonbonding animals (such as chimpanzees).

Natural reservoir[edit]

Prairie voles in Missouri have been found to carry Bloodland Lake virus (BLLV), a hantavirus. Hantaviruses are responsible for disease in humans including Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and Hantavirus hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. No known human cases of Bloodland Lake virus have been reported.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Linzey, A.V. & Hammerson, G. (2008). "Microtus ochrogaster". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "Microtus ochrogaster". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 21 December 2007. 
  3. ^ "Peptide Shown To Regulate Social Behavior Has Positive Impact On Cardiac Response Following Social Isolation" , Medical News Today. Medicalnewstoday.com. Retrieved on 2012-12-28.
  4. ^ Young, LJ; Murphy Young, AZ; Hammock, EA (2005). "Anatomy and neurochemistry of the pair bond". The Journal of comparative neurology 493 (1): 51–7. doi:10.1002/cne.20771. PMID 16255009. 
  5. ^ Jerrold J. Scharninghausen, Richard M. Pitts, John W. Bickham, Donald S. Davis, James N. Mills. Evidence of Hantavirus Infection in Microtus Ochrogaster in St. Louis County, Missouri.: An article from: Transactions of the Missouri Academy of Science. January 1, 1999. ISBN B00099P6I8

Further reading[edit]

  • Natural History of the Prairie Vole (Mammalian Genus Microtus), by E. W. Jameson, Jr., University of Kansas Publications Museum of Natural History, Volume 1, No. 7, pp. 125–151.
  • Gaines, M. S., and R. K. Rose. 1976. The population dynamics of Microtus ochrogaster in eastern Kansas. Ecology 47:1145–1161.
  • Rose, R. K., and M. S. Gaines. 1978. The reproductive cycle of Microtus ochrogaster in eastern Kansas. Ecol. Monogr. 48:21–42.
  • Hammock EA, Young LJ (2005). "Microsatellite instability generates diversity in brain and sociobehavioral traits". Science 308 (5728): 1630–4. doi:10.1126/science.1111427. PMID 15947188. 
  • Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. pp. 894–1531 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Includes M. o. ludovicianus, an isolated (and apparently extinct) form formerly regarded as a distinct species. Subspecies minor exhibits strong morphometric segregation from other M. ochrogaster and merits further examination of its taxonomic status (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005).

This species has been placed in (sub)genus Pitymys by some authors; however, genic data do not support the purported close affinity of M. ochrogaster with North American species of subgenus Pitymys (Moore and Janecek 1990; see also references cited by Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 2005).

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