Sunday, August 28, 2011

High Praise from a Prairie Vole

When Chunk and I take our walk through the neighborhoods and down to the park, I sometimes keep count of the number of species we see: 12-22 birds (depending on how long the walk; highest number in spring), and usually only 2 mammals— Eastern Gray Squirrel (always), and either Eastern Cottontail or Eastern Chipmunk. Chunk is more of a mammal-watcher than a bird-watcher and recently he's been pushing the mammal species total upward.

At first, I assumed these holes were the entrances to chipmunk tunnels, but they were too small: only 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches (3.17-4.45 cm) in width. There were many on them too on the gentle slope by the cemetery fence; I knew there couldn't be that many chipmunks in the small area. Then I spotted one. It looked like a small, grey mouse, with a rounded head. As you can see from my one-handed snapshot above, Chunk didn't wait to see it—he dove right in! Never fear, my fellow critter-lovers, I didn't let him catch one.

I suspected voles, so first I checked Mark Elbroch's Mammal Tracks & Sign; A Guide to North American Species, 2003. This is really a fascinating book, filled with photos, though some of the mammal signs are, well, unattractive. Elbroch confirmed that the holes were within the range of voles.

The pathways through the dry grass and winter creeper seemed significant signs too.
Prairie Vole, photo from Wikimedia Commons, by US National Park Service
Next I checked Mammals of North America, by Bowers, Bowers, and Kaufman. Judging by the range maps and the dry habitat, these are most likely Prairie Voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Both sources mention the runways between tunnel entrances. I realize now that these little guys are to blame for the disruptions in my front garden of glade and prairie wildflowers and grasses. Since they are a prairie species, I'll take their presence as a compliment.

Mammal watchers might also enjoy:
Mountain Lion, St. Louis
What are ya usin' for bait?
Charismatic Megafauna
Walk on the Wild Side 


  1. He is a cute little critter. I like how your response is to realize that they are part of what your ecosystem is. That is how my husband and I look at animals, even the fox that killed one of my chickens. It is all part of the fabric of nature.

    kateri @

  2. Great that you linked to the swimming deer post -- that was from before I was following you and I didn't see it before. Really great!

  3. Thanks Kateri! My garden is always the best looking or tidiest one, but for me, the point is to attractive wildlife.

    Hi Alan, Thanks for the look at the swimming deer post, written by my friend J. It's always a memorable day when you see some wildlife.