Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus)

Winter Tunnels

Survival tactics used over the winter months means using many different strategies. Once winter has spread her blanket of snow, the meadow vole spends the winter constructing a labyrinth of snow tunnels. The tunnels provide a steady environment protecting these animals from the normal fluctuations of cold and wind. The temperature is often several degrees warmer in the tunnel.

Vole in tunnelVoles feed on the grasses and seeds they find as they tunnel through the snow. The uneaten grass often covers the tunnel floor like a hallway carpet. As temperatures warm, these tunnels can be easily seen and followed.

Following the tunnels may lead you to the dining area where food was readily available. It may lead you to a bedroom where you will find a ball of fine grass and maybe some cattail fuzz for warmth. Following it further may lead you to the backdoor used for escape.

The vole's tunnels provide a certain amount of safety. All their needs are provided under the cover of snow. They seldom travel out of the tunnel. To deal with this safety, predators have developed keen hearing. Fox and coyotes will stand above the snow with their ears pointed forward listening for a vole running through its tunnel. When they have located one, they will leap trying to catch the vole between their paws. This tactic may be attempted several times, but in the end they will either enjoy a tasty meal, or if the vole is lucky, just a mouthful of cold snow.

Next time you are out walking in the winter, think about who may be just beneath winter's blanket.

Non-DNR Links

Microtus pennsylvanicus (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)

Microtus pennsylvanicus (NatureServe)