Voles are small rodents that grow to 4–8 inches depending on species. They can have 5–10 litters per year. Gestation lasts for 3 weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. As a result of this exponential growth, vole populations can grow very large within a very short period of time. Since litters average 5–10 young, a single pregnant vole in a yard can result in a hundred or more active voles in less than a year.
Voles are commonly mistaken for other small animals. Moles, gophers, mice, rats and even shrews have similar characteristics and behavioral tendencies. Since voles will commonly use burrows with many exit holes, they can be mistaken for gophers or some kind of ground squirrel. Voles can create and will oftentimes utilize old abandoned mole tunnels thus confusing the land owner into thinking that moles are active. When voles find their way into the home, they are readily misidentified as mice or young rats. In fact, voles are unique and best described as being a little bit like all the other animals they are so commonly thought to be.
They will readily thrive on small plants. Like shrews they will eat dead animals and like mice or rats, they can live on most any nut or fruit. Additionally, voles will target plants more than most other small animals. It is here where their presence is mostly evident. Voles will readily “girdle” or eat the bark of small trees and ground cover much like a porcupine. This girdling can easily kill young plants and is not healthy for trees or other shrubs.
Voles love to eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover they are particularly fond of and eat away until the plant is dead. Bulbs in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunnelling gives them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. A vole problem is often only identifiable after they have destroyed a number of plants.