Is it a Vole or a Mole?

When hiking along the trails in Wilden, I often hear a slight rattle of leaves and then, if I am lucky, I spy a brown blur disappearing into a hole. This small rodent is called a vole, which is not to be mistaken for a mole. Both creatures are shy and not often seen. Let’s take a look at some distinct differences in these tiny rodents.

Vole

They have distinct thick front legs and have long claws suited for digging. Moles tend to stay under ground in the tunnels they have constructed: whereas, voles tend to be on the surface to be close to their food sources of grasses and plants. With the snow melting you may have noticed little pathways along the grass, these are from voles traveling all winter long under the insulating snow. Moles leave piles of dirt called mole hills.

Voles are similar to mice, yet have much smaller ears, and eyes. Their coats are brown with relatively short tails. Voles are herbivores, eating plants, seeds, roots and tubers. Moles on the other hand, are insectivores, eating grubs, worms and insects. Moles’ coats are dark velvety grey or brown.

Mole

Voles and moles can be quite a nuisance, especially if your prize lawn has become a tangle of vole runways or mole tunnels. However, these wee creatures do have a useful place in nature. Their digging habits aerate and mix the soil fostering the growth of indigenous plants. Indeed, these rodents are also important food sources for owls, hawks and other animals. I saw a Great Blue Heron snatch up a vole and swallow it whole, (this could be a new verse for the song, I know an old lady who swallowed a fly). I don’t know why, or which was worse to see, a vole being unceremoniously swallowed, or the time I saw a Great Blue Heron flying overhead holding onto a writhing snake, (but that is a story for another time).

It truly is amazing what can be seen outdoors. Time spent in nature also provides many benefits such as helping us to cope better with stresses and to feel happier in life. Spring is especially full of wonder with generous treasures for the senses. Next time you are out hiking keep a sharp eye out for evidence of the vole runways that are now more visible with the disappearing snow.

 

– Article by Flora McLeod