Myodes gapperisouthern red-backed vole

Geographic Range

Red-backed voles, Myodes gapperi, range from British Columbia to mainland Newfoundland and throughout the northern United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.


Red-backed voles inhabit cool, mossy and rocky boreal forests in both dry and moist areas. They also inhabit tundra and bogs. Coniferous forests are preferred habitat, although deciduous or mixed coniferous/deciduous woods are also accepted. Nests are generally constructed under the roots of stumps, logs, or brush piles, but may be located in holes or branches of trees high above the ground.

Physical Description

The head and body length of red-backed voles varies between 70 and 112 mm. The tail is 25 to 60 mm long. On average, they weigh 20.57 g, but individuals weighing between 6 and 42 g have been recorded. Red-backed voles have dense, long, soft fur in winter but this changes to shorter, coarser fur in summer. The general coloration above is dark gray with a pronounced chestnut brown stripe running along the back from head to tail. Face and sides appear yellowish brown and the underparts are dark slate gray to almost white. Males and females are similar in size and color, and young animals tend to be darker than adults.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    6 to 42 g
    0.21 to 1.48 oz
  • Average mass
    20.57 g
    0.72 oz
  • Range length
    95 to 172 mm
    3.74 to 6.77 in


The mating system of red-backed voles has not been described.

Red-backed voles may begin breeding as early as late winter and continue breeding into late fall, from March until November. Females generally rear 2 or 3 litters each year. Gestation is 17 to 19 days, and litter size ranges from 1 to 11 young, although average litter size is 3 to 7, depending on environmental conditions.

Offspring are born naked and blind. They are able to stand when 4 days of age, have fur by 8 days, open their eyes by 15 days and are weaned at 17 to 21 days. Sexual maturity occurs at approximately 3 months of age.

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding of red-backed voles occurs every 1.5 months during warm weather.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season of red-backed voles extends from March through November.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 11
  • Average number of offspring
    3 to 7
  • Range gestation period
    17 to 19 days
  • Range weaning age
    17 to 21 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 months

The parental behavior of these animals has not been described. However, because they are mammals, we know that the mother provides some care for the young. Mothers nurse their offspring for 17 to 21 days after birth, and provide the young with a protective nest in which to live. It is not known whether males help to care for the young.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Red-backed voles can live 20 months in the wild. However, most voles only live as long as 12 to 18 months

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 (high) months
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 to 18 months


Red-backed voles are active night and day (more often at night) year round, staying close to fallen logs or rocks and frequently traveling though underground passages when they forage. They usually hop rather than run and are agile jumpers and climbers. They do not generally make runways of their own, but they often use those of other small mammals such as shrews or moles. Red-backed voles construct spherical nests of grasses, mosses, lichens, or shredded leaves. During the winter, nests are sometimes created directly on the ground under the snow, with tunnels radiating from the nest under the snow.

When disturbed, red-backed voles utter a chirplike bark that can be heard 1 to 2 m away. They may flee or freeze in position, depending on their preceding activity. They also gnash or chatter their teeth.

Red-backed voles are quite territorial, excluding other red-backed voles from their homes and showing aggression toward other species as well. No communal living or pair bonds have been observed, with the only amicable interactions among individuals occuring at mating time and between a mother and her offspring.

  • Range territory size
    1,400 to 14,000 m^2

Home Range

Home ranges range in size from 0.14 ha in the winter to 1.4 ha in the summer (0.5 ha is most common) and as small as 0.14 ha in the winter, when foraging is restricted by a blanket of snow.

Communication and Perception

Communication in these animals has not been thoroughly described. Some vocalizations are used to communicate. When disturbed, red-backed voles utter a chirplike bark that can be heard 1 to 2 m away. They also gnash or chatter their teeth.

In addition, visual cues such as body posture may be of some importance in interactions with members of the same species. The role of chemical signals in these animals remains unknown, although it is likely that some information is transmitted through scents. Tactile communication is important in aggression, as well as in the relationship between a mother and her offspring.

Food Habits

Red-backed voles are opportunistic feeders and change their diet as the seasons progress. They eat leaf petioles and young shoots in the spring, add fruits and berries to their diet in the summer, and then switch to nuts and seeds in the autumn. They also consume some bark, roots, lichens, fungi, and insects. They sometimes store food in their nests for use in the winter when it becomes difficult to forage, although they continue to forage for seeds, tree roots, and bark under the snow.

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


Red-backed voles are eaten by a number of predatory species. Owls, hawks, mustelids, black bears, Canada lynx, bobcats, coyotes, red foxes, and wolves are all likely predators of these small rodents.

Ecosystem Roles

Red-backed voles are prey to a variety of species. They also consume insects and plant materials, and may help disperse seeds.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red-backed voles destroy harmful insect larvae and are also a major source of food for fur-bearing animals. Although some seeds are eaten, they are important agents in transporting and burying seeds in some areas.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red-backed voles may damage or kill tree seedlings, and they also eat a large number of seeds. This has been of little economic importance to humans, however.

Conservation Status

Populations of red-backed voles often fluctuate widely from year to year but with no apparent periodicity. Numbers are fairly low in most of the species range, however, with an average of approximately 2 to 3 voles per acre in favorable habitat.


Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, George Hammond (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Liz Ballenger (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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


uses sound to communicate


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.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


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


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).


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.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


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).


Living on the ground.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


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.


Jackson, H.H.T. 1961. Mammals of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin.

Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Nowak, R.M. and J.L Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. 4th edition. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.