Voles are rodents that look like mice on steroids and they eat their weight in garden plants every single day.
Voles are related to lemmings and muskrats. There are 155 species of vole worldwide, with six in California. Two of those species are considered major pests:
Voles look a lot like mice crossed with gerbils. Voles are also known as meadow mice or field mice. Voles range in length from 5 to 8 inches, including the tail. Voles have a burly body, a rounded head, a short hairy tail, small eyes, and tiny ears. Their longer coarse fur can be blackish-brown, yellowish-brown, grayish-brown, or reddish-brown, with gray underparts.
Voles love the dense vegetation (and abundant food) of many residential landscapes, as well as agricultural fields. Unlike moles, who dig deep burrows edged with dirt mounds, voles spend much of their time running along paths (2 inch wide ‘runways’) found between multiple burrow entrances. These entrances are usually 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Nests are made out of clumps of grasses. Voles will often cover their runways with plant material or create them in places with overhanging vegetation. Voles also use freshly cut grass and their own green droppings (3/16” long) to line the entrances to their burrows.
Is it vole damage?
Voles eat plant roots, tree and shrub bark, and all sorts of bulbs, including garlic. They also eat seeds, flowers, grasses, and tubers. Celery, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, turnips and sweet potatoes are just a few of the garden plants enjoyed my voles. Cherry, almond, avocado, citrus, olive and apple trees may also be damaged by vole feeing, especially if low-hanging branches make it easier for voles to reach hop on (they are lousy climbers). Signature irregular gnaw marks, 1/8 inch wide and 3/8 inch long, indicate voles. These gnaw marks can cause girdling damage that can kill a tree.
Vole populations fluctuate based on several factors, including temperatures, availability of food, and predation. It boom years, several thousand voles can occupy a single acre of land, causing severe damage and plant loss. One female vole can produce well over 50 offspring in a single year, so it is better to prevent the problem in the first place:
If voles are present and these exclusionary measures aren’t enough, you can use standard mouse and rat traps, baited with peanut butter. Be sure to place the traps along existing runway paths. While baiting with poison can be effective, the risks to pets, children, and other wildlife make it an undesirable option. Some people have found vole repellant to be very effective, without causing risks to plants or animals. My dogs do the trick in my yard.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!