Microtus arvaliscommon vole

Geographic Range

Common voles (Microtus arvalis) are found from northern Spain as far north as the southern edge of Finland and as far south as eastern Turkey. Common voles are also found as far east as Mongolia.

There are also a few isolated groups of common voles. One group is located along the coast of the Black Sea from Alupka almost to Feodosiia in Ukraine and almost as far inland as Nyzhnohirskyi. Another group is located in Iran north of Ardabil. The third group is located in southeastern Kazakhstan and stretches into northwestern China. The final group is a disjunct population, located in northern Mongolia and stretching into southern Russia near Lake Baikal. The range curves around the lake some so that the geographic range for the group ends just north of Irkutsk and east of Angarsk.

A subspecies, the Orkney vole, was prehistorically introduced to the Orkney Islands (coast of Scotland). They were believed to have been introduced there about 4500 years ago, and genetics show that the original population originated from France or Spain. (Haynes, et al., 2003; Yigit, et al., 2016)


Common voles are found in a variety of habitats. These habitats include forests, pastures, meadows, and farming areas. Common voles can be found in elevations varying from sea level to 3000 m. (Yigit, et al., 2016)

  • Range elevation
    sea level to 3000 m
    to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

Common voles have a brown-gray pelage, with updersides that are lighter-colored. Their round ears appear absent upon first glance, but are simply hidden in the pelage. Their tails are relatively short. These voles have an average adult body weight of 27.5 grams, and an average body length of 113.66mm.

Despite their commonality, simple descriptions of these voles seems lacking in the literature. From the 1896 book North American Fauna, defining characteristics of common voles include nails on their feet with the hind feet having longer claws than the front. On each of their feet, common voles have 6 tubercles. Their feet are also hairy from the nails to the heels. Common voles have a "normal" palate. Regarding their dentition, the first lower molar and last upper molar contain large numbers of angles and loops that characterize their teeth patterns. Common voles always have two sets of four mamma or nipples. One set of four is in the inguinal region while the other is in the pectoral region.

They have a basal metabolic rate of 0.3430 cm^3 oxygen/hour. (Jones, et al., 2009; Nowak, 1999; United States Bureau of Biological Survey, et al., 1896; Weigl, 2005)

  • Average mass
    27.5 g
    0.97 oz
  • Average length
    113.66 mm
    4.47 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.3430 cm3.O2/g/hr


Borkowska and Ratkiewicz (2010) found that common voles are polygynandrous. Multiple males tend to mate with multiple females in the same season. Males mate with multiple females to increase their reproductive success. During the mating season, common vole males may try to monopolize one or more females.

Wang (2013) found that females that are fertile will continuously try to mate throughout the breeding season until they are pregnant. This can result in multiple paternity within a single litter. (Borkowska and Ratkiewicz, 2010; Wang, 2013)

In common voles, females are mature after 38 days while males reach maturity at 56 days. The gestation period for common voles is 21 days. The average litter size is about 5.1 and the number of litters per year averages 5.5 across populations. The average weight at birth is 1.85 grams. Weaning occurs around day 20, when pups weight ca. 8.9 grams. The time between litters averages 25.15 days.

Wang (2013) found that the breeding season for common voles typically starts around April 1st and lasts until October 1st. This is validated by the population peaks that occur from July until September. An extended breeding season could explain a peak that occurs after September. (Wang, 2013; Weigl, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    After a litter is born it is about 25.15 days before a female becomes pregnant again.
  • Breeding season
    April 1st through October 1st
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    21 days
  • Average weaning age
    20 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    38 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    56 days

Females will either give birth alone or in groups. They will give birth in groups when the population's mortality rate for adults is high (i.e., females do not return from foraging bouts). This closeness allows for other females to take care of the orphaned pups. The maximum number of pups in a group is 15. The age of pups when they are weaned is about 20 days.

The role of males in pup care varies considerably in the wild versus in captivity. In the wild, the promiscuous males and females have unstable pair bonds and do not stay together as a family unit for long. Sometimes, the males have no roles in parental care beyond mating. In captivity, Gromov (2013) found that males do assist with care, and that the presence of a male in pup rearing will influence male pups' ability to rear their own young. In captivity, both parents huddled over their young and spent about the same amount of time with the pups. For common voles, this huddling, plus licking, are considered important tactile stimulations.

The amount of parental care is not determined by the number of pups. (Boyce and Boyce III, 1988; Gromov, 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Maximum longevity in captivity is 4.8 years. The longest known lifespan and the expected lifespan in the wild are not known for this species but other members of the species live for 1 year and up to 33 months in the wild. Most voles will not live beyond one month of age. (Nowak, 1999; Weigl, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4.8 (high) years


Common voles are typically diurnal do not hibernate. They live in groups. This communal living provides a higher likelihood of survival when predators attack. Group members can synchronize their actions to protect themselves from predators, a safety in numbers game. Common voles communicate with each other by staying within close proximity to each other. They do this so they can see or hear the others moving around. These actions help warn the others that a predator is present. Tikhonova et al. (2008) investigated how voles interacted and behaved in an unfamiliar and a familiar territory. They also investigated what happened when an unfamiliar female or male was introduced into the territory. They found that voles placed in unfamiliar territory were timid and did not leave the nests. Some of them took days before they would leave the nest to explore. Males and females acted the same in that they tried to hide when moving outside of the nests. Females tend to interact with males more than with other females. Males tended to initiate aggression while females tended to avoid or stay away from aggression. Tikhonova et al. (2008) also found that when inhabiting a familiar territory, female aggression towards other females increases. Their foraging increased as well as their overall movement. They are more active in a familiar environment as opposed to an unfamiliar environment. Compared to males, females were less mobile, tending to sit outside of their nests. (Nowak, 1999; Tikhonova, et al., 2008; Wang, 2013)

Home Range

Wang (2013) observed that the home range for common voles was different for males and females. Male average home range was 197.8 m^2, while that of females averaged 140.6 square meters. For both males and females their home range increased during the summer months. (Wang, 2013)

Communication and Perception

Common voles usually live in groups in burrows. These groups synchronize when they venture above ground to get food. Common voles increase their safety by being synchronized with each other because they can exchange warning signals when predators are present. When voles sight a predator they either freeze or run for the safety of their burrow. The response rate of common voles depends on their proximity to other voles. This is because they use the ques of those around them to know when a predator is near. Common voles use sight and sound to determine if a predator is around.

Like other voles, common voles may communicate vocally. When "upset" (Nowak, 1999), they can give off a high-pitched squeal. Other members of the genus have well-studied sound patterns, but specific sounds of common voles have not yet been described. (Gerkema and Verhulst, 1990; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Common voles typically forage on herbaceous plants and grasses, and will often consume agricultural crops. They forage underground or beneath the cover of grasses.

One study found that the nitrogenous content in the stomachs of common voles varied based on four parameters: year of study, sex, biotopes (habitat), and age. Food habits changes across years, and were infleunces by changes in microhabitat. Age played a role in feeding habits, as immature common voles were found to have more nitrogenous contents than older common voles. Finally, adult females had the lower nitrogenous intake than adult males.

Common voles are apparently able to remembering where food is located. Once they know of a source of food, they visit it frequently until that spot runs out of food. (Cepelka, et al., 2014; Haupt, et al., 2010; Yigit, et al., 2016)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • flowers


Barn owls (Tyto alba), buzzards (Buteo buteo), and common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), are avian predators of the common vole, while weasels and domestic cats (Felis catus) are ground predators of common voles. During the breeding season, common kestrels feed largely on common voles. Kestrels catch the voles for themselves and to feed to their young. Paz et al. (2013) found that barn owls and common kestrels could be used to help control the common vole population when voles become agricultural pests. Halle (1988) found that common kestrels and buzzards preyed more frequently on voles than on mice. Common kestrels predominantly captured males. The heaviest common voles were selected for during the winter. In the summer, the common voles that had not matured into adulthood were most often preyed upon. By synchronizing when they are active on the surface, common voles are less likely to be killed because of their safety in numbers. Common voles synchronize by going aboveground in groups. Common voles warn each other by running away or freezing when a predator is near. (Boyce and Boyce III, 1988; Gerkema and Verhulst, 1990; Halle, 1988; Hoogenboom and Dijkstra, 1987; Paz, et al., 2013)

Ecosystem Roles

Taenia taeniaeforms is a tapeworm that uses common voles as a host. Fichet-Calvet at al. (2013) found that the prevalence of Taenia taeniaeform on common voles was higher in spring and autumn than in the summer. Sanchez, Devevey and Bize (2011) found that Trichuris arvicolae, a gastrointestinal nematode is found in common voles, and is more prevalent in females than in males. Sarcocystis cernae, is a protozoan parasite that uses common voles as intermediate hosts before going to its final hosts the common kestrel, Falco tinnunculus that hunts the common vole. Hoogenboom and Dijkstra (1987) found that Sarcocystis carnae made common voles more susceptible to being caught by common kestrels. Echinococcus multilocularis is a tapeworm that uses common voles as an intermediate host before going to its final hosts red foxes, Vulpes vulpes. (Fichet-Calvet, et al., 2003; Hansen, et al., 2004; Hoogenboom and Dijkstra, 1987; Sanchez, et al., 2011)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • protozoan parasites (Sarcocystis cernae)
  • tapeworms (Taenia taeniaeforms)
  • gastrointestinal nematodes (Trichuris arvicolae)
  • small fox tapeworms (Echinococcus multilocularis)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects for common voles on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Common voles damage crops by eating the leafy parts of plants and grasses, and they tend to be considered as a pest. (Yigit, et al., 2016)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List assessment lists common voles in the “Least Concern” category. Common voles are not listed on the US Federal list, CITES or the State of Michigan List.

Anti-conservation strategies for these known agricultural pests includes reducing refuge habitats that common voles use. These efforts include cutting along fences to reduce the height of plants there, which reduces the cover available for common voles. Another form of anti-conservation for common voles includes setting up nest boxes for barn owls (Tyto alba) and common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) to use. These nest boxes are set up in areas where common voles are prevalent. These two predators can be helpful in reducing the common vole population. (Jacob, 2003; Paz, et al., 2013; Yigit, et al., 2016)


Sierra Noble (author), Radford University, Alex Atwood (editor), Radford University, Marisa Dameron (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


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


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


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


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.


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.


uses sight to communicate


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


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