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Voles, are small rodents that measure 4 to 8.5 inches long and weigh 0.8 to 3 ounces and vary in color from brown to gray. They are pudgy, with blunt faces and small eyes, small and sometimes inconspicuous ears, short legs, and a short (the long-tailed vole is an exception) and scantily haired tail.
Voles Eight species of voles are found widely throughout various ecosystems of Colorado, in heavy ground cover of grasses, grass-like plants, and litter.
Characteristics of Voles There are two kinds of voles, the pine vole (Microtus pinetorum) and the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Both of these can cause damage in orchards, ornamental nurseries, and other horticultural plantings.
Eyes and ears are not visible, tail is shorter than hind legs, fur is reddish brown, slightly smaller than meadow vole (3 inches long, weighs 1 ounce or less), lives and causes damage below the ground.
Life Cycle: Vole numbers fluctuate from year to year; under favorable conditions their populations can increase rapidly. Voles may breed at any time of year, but their peak breeding period is in spring. Female Voles mature in 35 to 40 days and can have up to five to ten litters per year.
Voles can breed throughout the year, however most reproduction happens during favorable weather from March to September. Creeping voles peak reproduction occurs in spring, usually during April. Creeping voles have 3-4 babies per litter and an average of 4-8 litters per year.
Townsendâ€™s vole has a similar reproductive potential; litter sizes average 4-7 young with at least 2 litters per year. Gestation periods are short (less than a month) and females are ready to breed by 24 days old. As with insect or weed pests, you can see how these vertebrate pest populations can build rapidly under prime conditions.
Damage: Voles feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses. Voles feed on above and below ground plant parts such as foliage, seeds, stems, roots and bulbs. Voles are pretty benign and may go unnoticed during the spring and summer because of the availability of food during these times. For bulbs and plants with succulent roots, damage by voles can be immediate with obvious losses of plants and tubers.
Small trees can also be very vulnerable, however symptoms may not be noticed until spring. As food becomes scarce and vole populations are high in fall and early winter, voles may seek the tasty cambium of small tree roots, crowns and trunks. Root-chewed trees are stunted, spindly and have very little foliage. Leaves can even show signs of reddening and other water-stress symptom
Damaged trees can look like theyâ€™ve been whittled near the trunk. The chew marks made by a vole can be recognized by: the pattern, location, and the size of the bite marks. Voles feed close to the ground, if not below ground. Gnaw marks left by feeding voles are non-uniform, irregular and are at various angles. Other vertebrate pests like bunnies, feed like typewriters: uniform, regular and at consistent angles. Gnaw marks are anywhere from 1/16th â€“ 1/8th of an inch while rabbit marks are much wider. Voles can also damage trees by tunneling extensively around the root system, causing air pockets.
Controls: Eliminate weeds, ground cover and crop litter in and around cultivated areas. This reduces they availability of food and cover for voles, and the capacity of these areas to support them. Permanent sod strips between blueberry or raspberry rows must be mowed regularly. A weed-free or vegetation-free strip is an excellent buffer around areas to be protected. The wider the buffer strip, the less likely voles will cross it to the cropping area. Frequent tillage removes cover, destroys existing runways or tunnels and destroys a percentage of the existing population.
Several chemicals, such as zinc phosphide and Rozol baits are effective for fall and winter vole in noncrop areas. Rates and method of application vary. Read and follow all label directions and restrictions. Zinc phospide is a restricted use pesticide. Wire or metal barriers (tree guards) at least 12 inches high, with a mesh size of 1/4 inch or less around blueberries or trees, will exclude meadow voles. Bury the bottom edge six to ten inches to prevent pine voles from digging beneath the barrier. Mouse traps, or snap-back traps, can be very effective in reducing the vole population. Place the trap perpendicular to the runway with the trigger end in the runway. Apple slices or a peanut butter-oatmeal mixture make good baits.
A section of roofing shingle placed over the burrow opening and baited with an apple slice will attract voles. A trap can also be placed under this shingle, as voles are readily attracted to shingles or pieces of plywood placed on the ground. Shingles should be bent to form an A-shaped root. Plywood or flat material should have small blocks under the corners to allow for a crawl space. These shelters can also serve as bait sites. Leave in place a few days before baiting to allow the animals to become accustomed to it. At least one repellent utilizing thiram (Bonide Rabbit, Deer and Field Mice Repellent) is labeled for voles.
Also, a new material, Miller Hot Sauce Animal Repellent, containing the extract capsaicin from peppers, may afford short-term protection from meadow and pine voles. The label states use on ornamentals, fruit trees, vines, bushes and certain vegetable crops (beans, peas, peppers, melons, squash and tomatoes). Check the label for mixing directions and use restrictions.
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