Adaptations of the Meadow Vole

By Lauren Corona

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) are small rodents, measuring 5 to 8 inches in length. Widely distributed across North America, these voles are the most common in the area. Most commonly found in meadows and lowland fields, they will also reside in flooded marshes, orchards or grassy, open woodlands. A range of adaptations have helped them to thrive in their environment.

Tunnels and Burrows

To help hide out from predators, meadow voles create a series of tunnels and burrows through which they can move. They create a central nest in clumps of grass and then make a network of runways or tunnels beneath the grass and plants to connect the nest with other areas in which they forage. This allows them to move around undetected. They're also able to use their big foreclaws to excavate a system of burrows that they can hide in when danger strikes.

Regular Breeding

The regularity of meadow voles' breeding means they can easily keep their numbers high. Females are sexually mature at 1 month old and start producing litters straightaway. As they have no set breeding season, they'll continue to mate and give birth throughout the year. Females have litters of between three and 10 pups as often as every three weeks, which equates to 17 litters in a year.

Eating Habits

Since meadow voles don't hibernate during the colder months, they need to be able to find food all year long. Although fully herbivorous, they've adapted to be able to eat a wide range of different foods so they don't run out in the winter. They're not known to store food, but in the summer they eat fresh, green foods—such as grasses, sedges, herbs and flowers—whereas in the winter they eat grains, seeds, bark, roots and almost any other available plant food.

Communicating Danger

Meadow voles have adapted to communicate with one another when threats arise. Despite being solitary creatures, they will give out a warning to any other voles in their area if they spot potential danger. They make a noise by stamping their large hind feet on the floor, much like rabbits. These creatures don't tend to make any vocalizations in case of danger, but will get vocal to defend their territory from others of their species.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images