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Discover Nature: Voles Feed Under the Snow

Illustration: a prairie vole in a burrow beneath the snow.
Prairie voles (M. ochrogaster) occur statewide. They provide an important food source for many predators and their burrowing helps keep soil and plants healthy. While the ground may be frozen and covered in snow, these rodents remain active below, storing food in underground caches to survive the winter.

This week on discover nature, voles (also called meadow mice) are busily working under snow and soil.

Voles, often confused with moles and shrews, are more mouse-like: small, stocky brown rodents with short tails, small ears, and a blunt, rounded snout.

Three species of voles call Missouri home: prairie voles and woodland voles reside statewide, while the meadow vole only inhabits the northern part of the state.

Voles build runway systems above- and belowground, and they construct nests of woven grasses and other materials.

They eat tender stems, leaves, roots, tubers, flowers, seeds, fruits, insects, and other small animals.

When food is scarce, voles eat the inner bark of trees, shrubs, and vines. They store food in chambers near the nest, and often aboveground, in hollow stumps and other hiding places. A single cache may hold two-gallons of tubers, roots, and small bulbs.

Voles can sometimes seem like a nuisance, but their burrowing works the soil – mixing-in their stores of food and waste products, helping soil health and plant growth. They’re also a major food source for many predators including foxes and owls.

Learn more about voles with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

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