Field Guide/Mammals/Prairie Vole

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Microtus Ochrogaster (Prairie Vole)
Family: Cricetidae
Size: The prairie vole has a total length of 5.7 inches (or 146 mm) and weighs 1-1.8 ounces (or 30-50 grams). Its tail has an average length of 1.3 inches (or 34mm).[1]
Description: The prairie vole is a medium-sized animal similar in appearance to a mouse. They have stocky, compact bodies with brownish-black fur. Some of the longer furs on their bodies have yellow tips, giving the species a grizzled appearance. In addition, the furs on their bellies often show a yellow cast.[2]
Similar Species: Though the prairie vole is similar in appearance to the meadow vole, yellow fur on their bellies serves as a distinguishing feature. In addition, the sides of the prairie vole are somewhat paler than the back and the tail has two distinct colors.[3]

Range: This species ranges throughout the prairie states of the United States and north toward southern provinces of Canada. They are also found in east-central Alberta, central Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba through northern Oklahoma and Arkansas, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, central Tennessee, and westernmost Virginia.[4]
Habitat: Prairie voles live in tall-grass prairies, often ones with very dry soil. They live in colonies, using burrows for protection in upland agricultural habitats. They will also inhabit herbaceous fields; grasslands, and even old agricultural lands.[4]
Diet: Prairie voles eat mostly vegetables, such as plants, seeds, bulbs and bar. They store much of this food for winter. They are also known to eat the flesh of other prairie voles.[2]
Activity: Prairie voles are active year round both day and night. Their peak activity occurs near dusk. They are more active during the day in the winter, and more active at night in the summer seasons.[4]

Reproduction: Their breeding habits are not entirely well known. It is thought they breed throughout the year, but primarily in the spring and summer seasons. Each female produces several litters per year of two to six children.[2]
Lifespan: Prairie voles rarely live longer than one or two years in the wild. In captivity, they may live up to 16 months.[3]

Notes: Prairie voles are one of very few monogamous mammals.[5] In addition to being monogamous, they are extremely loyal partners to their mates. Their behavior often suggests that they would rather spend time with their mates than with any other voles. They even avoid other voles of the opposite sex to focus on their mates. Similar to humans, prairie voles release the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin after mating. These hormones have been linked to pair bonding and may be the reason they bond with their first mate. Prairie voles also form family units, where both parents support their offspring as well as each other.[6]
Prairie Vole


  1. Hazard, E.B. (1982), The mammals of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press 
  2. a b c ,, retrieved October 13, 2012 
  3. a b Stalling, D.T. (1999), Microtus ochrogaster, pp. 1–9 
  4. a b c Linzey, A.V. (2008), Microtus ochrogaster IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,, retrieved October 14, 2012 
  5. Kettlewell, J. (2004), 'Fidelity gene' found in voles,, retrieved October 14, 2012 
  6. Young, L. (2004), "Reward mechanism involved in addiction likely regulates pair bonds between monogamous animals", Emory University Health Sciences Center,, retrieved October 14, 2012