A Short Lesson on Bank Voles

Identification of voles

The Water Vole, Field Vole and Bank Vole all live in Britain, All voles have similar characteristics of a round face, blunt nose, tiny ears and a short tail. The bank vole is the smallest, has chestnut brown fur and the one most found to live in gardens. The field vole is slightly larger; more of a grey-brown colour, and has an even shorter tail. The water vole is much larger, with a brown coat.

The bank vole is found in Western Europe and northern Asia. It is native to Great Britain but not to Ireland, where it has been accidentally introduced, and has now colonised much of the south and southwest.

vole

The Bank vole lives in woodlands, hedgerows, heathlands, grasslands, parks and gardens. Bank voles usually have several short periods of activity throughout the day; however they are usually most active before dawn or after dusk. They do not hibernate in winter but moult to cope with the temperature change with the seasons. Moulting provides a dense layer of fur for winter and a “lighter” coat in spring. It gathers and stores food underground for times of scarcity in the winter and makes a nest with moss, dry grasses and leaves close to the surface or even above ground. Bank Voles are mostly herbivorous; eat fruit, nuts, insects and favour hazelnuts and blackberries.

Breeding

Females maintain territories which may overlap and males occupy larger territories covering those of several females. The breeding season lasts from Late April to September and the gestation period averages 21 days, being longer if the female is still lactating from a previous litter. A litter can be up to ten pups and pups are weaned at 20 to 25 days. The females become sexually mature by six weeks with the males reaching maturity by eight weeks.

Infanticide

Infanticide is when an infant is killed deliberately. Bank vole females sometimes kill pups in burrows in overlapping territories and males sometimes kill pups before mating with their mother. Infanticide is an extreme method ensuring the survival of the fittest. It has been recorded in a number of species including mammals such as rodents and primates, fish, insects and amphibians. Scientific research shows it can provide benefits to the actor, such as increased reproductive opportunities, access to limited resources, direct nutritional benefits, or the prevention of misdirected parental care.

Importance of Bank Voles

The population size varies from year to year but in the long term appears to be stable. For these reasons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated the bank vole as being of “Least Concern” in its Red List of Threatened Species. When it lives on road verges, the bank vole can suffer from lead toxicity and near farmland it may be affected by pesticides and fertilizers. Although, the bank vole is abundant, it is an important part of the diet of tawny owls and small mustelids (weasel, stoat, pine marten), thus it’s importance should still be considered.

How To Attract The Bank Vole

Bank voles adapt well to the garden and are most likely to live in hedge bottoms or shrubs. They sometimes like to explore overgrown patches of long grass or brambles. You can attract them by growing blackberries and shrubs and keeping parts of your garden wild.

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Daysheen Bhogal

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