Microtus longicauduslong-tailed vole

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Geographic Range

Long-tailed voles are found throughout the western United States and Canada up through southeastern Alaska. Different regions are home to different population densities. ("Long-Tailed Vole", 2003)

Habitat

Long-tailed voles occupy a variety of habitats. Some examples of theses habitats include dry grassy areas, mountain slopes, forests, stream banks, sagebrush grasslands, mountain meadows, and riparian zones. Within all of these different types of landscape, long-tailed voles burrow and sometimes create runways underground. In Wyoming, the elevation at which this species can be found is 900 to 3300 meters. ("Long-Tailed Vole", 2003; "Long-Tailed Vole", 2002)

  • Range elevation
    900 to 3,300 m
    2952.76 to ft

Physical Description

Long-tailed voles are small bodied with long, bicolored tails. Body mass ranges from 20 to 85 g and total length from 150 to 250 mm. The tail is about 30% of their total length. The fur color of these animals varies with its location on the body. The dorsal fur is usually grayish brown with black tips, while the ventral fur is usually light gray color. The skull has a wide braincase, large bullae, a long rostrum, and long incisive foramina. The cheektooth pattern of this type of vole looks prismatic. ("Long-Tailed Vole", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

  • Range mass
    20 to 85 g
    0.70 to 3.00 oz
  • Range length
    150 to 250 mm
    5.91 to 9.84 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.383 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

No information found.

Like many rodents, long-tailed voles have a breeding season that stretches from May to October. Individuals located farther north have a shorter breeding season. For example, those populations in Alaska have a season extending from mid-May to mid-September. After reaching sexual maturity, females have a maximum of two litters in their lifetime. Female voles may reach sexual maturity by 3 weeks of age.

Pregnant voles construct nests made of plant material and fibers in their burrows. This is where the females give birth to their young. Litters typically contain from 3 to 6 young. The average gestation period is 20 to 23 days. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

  • Breeding interval
    These voles may breed twice during a breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    May to October
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
    5.22
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    20 to 23 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 weeks

Although details on the development and parental care of this species are lacking, voles are known to give birth to altricial young. These young typically reside in the mother's nest and are nursed there until they are able to forage on their own. Male parental care has not been reported in these animals. (Smolen and Keller, 1987)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Most long-tailed voles live for from 2 to 16 months. The average lifespan is about one year. Females usually live longer than males. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 16 months
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 months

Behavior

These mammals are active all year long, which means that they do not hibernate. The species is reported to be primarily nocturnal. Unlike other species of voles, M. longicaudus is not known to construct elaborate runways. Long-tailed voles are able to live with other microtine species, but they are still very shy. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

Home Range

Their average home ranges are smaller than 0.25 acres. In Alaska, males were reported to have larger home ranges than females. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

Communication and Perception

Information about communication in this species is scant. However, most microtines are known to use some vocalizationsm and it is likely that M. longicaudud is similar in that repsect. The neonates of this species are known to make an ultrasonic cry when disturbed, alerting the mother to their distress. (Smolen and Keller, 1987)

Food Habits

Like many rodents, long-tailed voles are herbivores. They feast on green plants, tree roots and bark, flowers, underground fungi, fruits, and seeds. Sometimes they will eat insects. Foraging for these food items occurs on the ground and underneath shrubs. (Cahalane, 1947; "Long-Tailed Vole", 2003; Smolen and Keller, 1987)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

That long-tailed voles are frequent victims of predation is not doubted. However, the quantity of long-tailed voles consumed by such predators is unknown-- paartly because of similarities between the skull morphology of this species and that of Microtus montanus, another popular prey item. When such remains are found, it is difficult to distinguish which species is present. (Smolen and Keller, 1987)

Ecosystem Roles

Long-tailed voles play an important role in local ecosystems. As short-lived, rapidly reproducing herbivores, they provide an important prey base for many carnivores. They are undoubtedly vital to local fod webs.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

It is unlikely that these animals provide any direct economic benefit to humans. However, because they are important prey animals, they do affect other species that humans find interesting an important. Many avian predators that people like to watch, such as falcons, hawks, and owls seem to rely on these animals for food.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Long-tailed voles are a nuisance for many people. They burrow, which causes destruction to the orchards and forests above. Also, they eat many crops (such as grains, potatoes, alfalfa, etc.) and other plant material resulting in more damage. Similar to other wild rodents and larger wild mammals, these voles can carry disease organisms, which can be transmitted to humans through contact. It is advised to be cautious when handling these animals. ("Voles", 2003)

Conservation Status

Long-tailed voles are considered non-game mammals but are protected by many state governments. If one of these voles causes a major problem, it may be captured or killed. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003)

Other Comments

The best way to prevent damage by long-tailed voles is to get rid of ground cover such as weeds and overgrown grasses. This limits their habitat. This method works because long-tailed voles will tend to avoid open areas. ("Managing voles in Colorado", 2003)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Lindsay Cosens (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

ultrasound

uses sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. 2003. "Long-Tailed Vole" (On-line ). Accessed 04/11/03 at http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/mammalogy/mamwash/milo.html.

Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center. 2002. "Long-Tailed Vole" (On-line ). Accessed 04/11/03 at http://www.sdvc.uwyo.edu/wbn/atlas/info/amaff11060.html.

National Wildlife Federation. 2003. "Long-Tailed Vole" (On-line ). ENature.com. Accessed 04/11/03 at http://www.enature.com/guides/show_species_fg.asp?beautyID=8776&recsFound=18&curPos=3&curGroup=Mammals&screenType=normal&guideID=ng&recNum=MA0419&searchType=&color=&size=&shape=624&leafShape=&fruit=&habitat=&range=&useFreeText=&freeText=.

Colorado State University. 2003. "Managing voles in Colorado" (On-line ). Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Accessed 04/11/03 at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/NATRES/06507.html.

Pensacola, Inc. 2003. "Voles" (On-line ). Do-It-Yourself Pest Products. Accessed 04/11/03 at http://www.pestproducts.com/voles_meadow_mice.htm#Long-tailed%20Vole.

Cahalane, V. 1947. Mammals of North America. New York: MacMillan Co..

Smolen, M., B. Keller. 1987. Microtus longicaudus. Mammalian Species, 271: 1-7.