Sunday, March 9, 2014

Winter Damage, Part II (Voles)

Much to my dismay, I found that they are back.  The voles.  Not that I mind THEM so much.  Its what they do to my lawn.  To all my friends who love animals, I apologize for the following post.  I don't want these guys as pets, and I will do whatever I can to make my home an unwelcome abode for them and their families.

What is a vole?  There are 4 types of voles found in Pennsylvania, but the one that you will most likely encounter at your home is the meadow vole, a small ground-dwelling rodent, about 6", with short legs, short tails, and chubby bodies.

Meadow vole
Better view of short legs and tail

What is vole damage?  You know you have a vole problem if you find long surface runway systems with burrow openings in your lawn.  They have been under the snow, and the voles use the snow as cover as they go out and chomp on the grasses and plants they need to survive.  The voles are very tasty to a lot of predators; they are very active, but try to stay out of open space and grassy areas.  Voles are the only ones who make the above-ground tunnels in your lawn.  They have the snow as cover, and once the snow melts, they will normally disappear from your open lawn.  Your lawn should recover quickly in the spring.  

Vole runways appear as the snow melts in the spring
Voles are also trouble-makers for orchards and nurseries, where they often girdle tree bark.  Lots of other animals do this too, but vole damage on tree bark is usually non-uniform, with gnaw marks at various angles and irregular patches.

What I found when the snow melted...
They are often confused with moles (who have large front feet and digging claws, no external ears and a pointy snout), shrews (who have a long pointy snout, pointy front teeth and are smaller than voles), and mice (the biggest difference between mice and voles is the length of their tail; voles have shorter tails).  A vole has a rounded, not a pointy, snout, chisel-shaped teeth, and visible eyes and ears.

There are various methods of control:
1.  Habitat modification.  Keep grasses clipped, clean up leaf litter, keep a 2 foot vegetative-free zone around trees to discourage them from nesting near tree bases.
2.  Exclusion (fencing).  Make sure it goes 4-6 inches beneath the ground.
3.  Trapping.  Can be effective.  Make sure you release the little fellows over a half mile away.
4.  Predators.  Hawks, owls, crows, skunks, raccoons, snakes and cats all enjoy voles.
5.  Repellants and toxicants.  Not practical in your lawn.  Consult a licensed applicator or the Extension Office for questions about these in commercial sites.
6.  Fumigants and frightening are not effective with voles.
PS Voles have been known to carry a variety of potentially serious human pathogens (rabies, hantavirus, others) so even if you think they're cute, don't handle and try to make a pet of them…

I'm trying to do some trapping, but no luck so far.  My hope is that this article is right and as the snow melts, they are migrating to better cover (AKA anywhere other than my lawn) for the months to come.   

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