In this article, we will examine two small rodents, specifically the vole and the mouse. These creatures bear a striking resemblance, requiring careful examination to discern their identities. However, by the end of this post, you will possess the ability to easily differentiate between them!
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The animal kingdom is a vast and intricate web, comprising countless species. It is impractical to document or recall every intricate detail of these diverse and remarkable creatures. Even experts in the field, such as zoologists, biologists, and marine biologists, cannot retain exhaustive knowledge about all animals. Consequently, confusion can arise when dealing with closely related species.
Individuals lacking extensive zoological knowledge, including children and the general public, may mistakenly identify one animal as another due to their similar appearances or behaviours. To distinguish between different creatures, it is advantageous to conduct a comparative analysis of the animals of interest.
Therefore, this compilation aims to elucidate the similarities and differences between two relatives: voles and mice. We have assembled a comprehensive review of the vole vs. mouse, ensuring that from this point forward, you will never again confuse these two species.
What is a Vole?
Voles, which belong to the same family as lemmings and hamsters, are small rodents characterized by their robust bodies and long, hair-covered tails. They possess round heads with petite ears and eyes. One distinctive feature of voles is their well-developed molars, found in their hind teeth.
These creatures typically range in size from 3 to 9 inches (8 – 23 cm). Superficially, voles bear a resemblance to various other animals of similar proportions, such as moles, gophers, mice, rats, and shrews. They are part of the extensive rodent family.
In 2016, a study focused on examining vole behaviour revealed an intriguing trait. It was discovered that voles exhibit a specific behaviour of providing comfort to one another, particularly when a fellow vole is in danger or harm. This comforting behaviour involves offering undivided attention and additional care to the distressed vole.
Experimental observations and analysis revealed that both the distressed and unaffected voles displayed similar levels of heightened stress hormones, indicating their capacity for empathy towards others.
Taxonomic Classification of Voles
Where Can Voles Be Found?
Through an extensive study conducted across various geographical regions, an attempt was made to determine the natural habitats of voles. The findings revealed that these creatures inhabit a diverse range of environments, spanning from high mountain elevations to sea-level terrains.
In North America, voles can be found in regions stretching from Alaska to the mountaintops of Mexico and Guatemala. Similarly, in Eurasia, they occupy vast territories encompassing Europe, Russia, West Asia, and Kazakhstan.
The African region, on the other hand, is home to a distinct population of voles, which is confined to the coastal areas of Libya.
These countries exhibit a rich assortment of landscapes, demonstrating the vole’s remarkable adaptability to various habitats. They are capable of surviving in diverse environments, including prairies, steppes, deserts, alpine and subalpine meadows, treeless tundra, and different types of forests such as cloud forests, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
What Do Voles Feed On?
Voles typically have a diet consisting of small plants and shrews, but they can adapt to different food sources when necessary. In times of limited resources or scarcity, they can sustain themselves by consuming carrion or scavenging nuts and fruits. Notably, voles exhibit a greater preference for plant matter compared to most other small animals, leaving distinct traces of their presence.
These rodents actively encircle small trees and ground cover, similar to how a porcupine behaves. This encircling behaviour can be detrimental to young plants and is generally unfavourable for overall vegetation health.
Voles frequently feed on juicy roots, burrow beneath plants, and consume the vital essence of the plant. Plant bulbs are particularly favoured by voles, and they effortlessly reach these delicate and hidden plant parts due to their exceptional burrowing and tunnelling abilities, granting them unhindered access without warning.
Large communities of voles are often established, resulting in significant damage to multiple plants. However, similar to their rodent counterparts, voles play crucial ecological roles and are considered beneficial for the environment. Their digging and girdling activities contribute to the dispersal of nutrients throughout the upper layers of the soil, to some extent.
Mating System of Voles
Voles exhibit a range of mating systems, including both monogamy and polygamy, which are influenced by environmental conditions and population dynamics. Voles live in communal groups, and within the Microtus genus, monogamy is favoured when resources are consistent and population density is low. On the other hand, polygamy becomes more prevalent in environments with contrasting conditions.
The mating behaviour of voles is also influenced by the operational sex ratio, which refers to the relative abundance of males and females. When the sex ratio is balanced, monogamy tends to be favoured. However, in situations where the sex ratio is imbalanced, polygamy becomes the preferred mating strategy.
Voles rely on olfactory cues for mate selection. Interestingly, monogamous voles tend to prefer unmated males as their partners, whereas non-monogamous voles do not have specific criteria for choosing mates.
Mate preference in voles develops through close proximity and interaction over a short period, typically within 24 hours. Voles are capable of breeding throughout the year. Female voles become fertile just 25 days after birth, while males acquire the ability to copulate at around 45 days of age.
Voles construct nests in pits within marsh grasses or underground in burrows and tunnels. Female voles can give birth to multiple litters in a year, with the average litter size ranging from 2 to 3 offspring, but occasionally reaching up to nine.
Newborn voles are born blind, hairless, and highly vulnerable. The female Voles are responsible for caring for their young for approximately two weeks until they become independent enough to forage on their own. Voles typically have a lifespan of about one year.
Predators Of Voles
It has been discovered that voles are the favourite prey of diverse animals like owls, hawks, snakes, weasels, and red foxes. In order to stay safe and avoid becoming the next meal of their predators, voles prefer living in their burrows underground. Interestingly, when kept in captivity, voles can exhibit aggressive behaviour, suggesting that they are not to be underestimated, despite their small size.
What is a Mouse?
The term “mouse” is commonly used as a general name for small rodents with a similar petite size of approximately 5 inches. However, it is important to note that not all rodents are mice. From a scientific perspective, “mouse” specifically refers to any of the 38 species belonging to the genus called “Mus.” The word “Mus” is derived from Latin and translates to “mouse.”
Initially, there was confusion within the scientific community, as various rodents were mistakenly labelled as mice. It took years of study and classification to bring about clarity and establish that Mus is a distinct genus encompassing a specific set of traits.
Within the Mus genus, there are four notable subgroups known as spiny mice (scientifically referred to as Subgenus Pyromys), shrew mice (scientifically referred to as Subgenus Coelomys), the house mouse (scientifically referred to as Subgenus Mus), and African mice (scientifically referred to as Subgenus Nannomys).
Taxonomic Classification of Mice
|Subspecies||Mus Musculus Bactrianus, Mus Musculus Castaneus, Mus Musculus Domesticus, Mus Musculus Gentilulus, Mus Musculus Musculus.|
Where Can Mice Be Found?
Mice are inclined to seek refuge in homes and buildings as a preferable choice for habitation, offering better survival prospects compared to outdoor environments such as yards, fields, and forests. While their natural habitats may vary, many mouse species opt to dwell in close proximity to human settlements primarily due to the safety of predators and the availability of food and water resources within man-made structures.
Despite outdoor habitats potentially providing favourable conditions, the unpredictable and fluctuating weather often drives these creatures indoors. Mice have the ability to squeeze through small spaces or cracks, exploiting even the tiniest gaps around foundations, entrances, and garages to gain entry. Once inside, they establish permanent nests in concealed areas near their food sources.
While houses may appear enticing to mice as a habitat, this poses challenges for homeowners. Rodents, particularly fond of house kitchens and pantries, continuously contaminate surfaces they come into contact with and spoil the food they consume. Mice are notorious for gnawing on plastic and packaging in order to access stored goods, consequently spreading germs, fur, and faecal droppings, which contaminate everything they encounter.
What Do Mice Feed on?
Mice display an undeniable weakness when it comes to food, showing an inability to resist the allure of a variety of culinary delights. Whether it’s a freshly prepared meal, leftover scraps, or even spoiled food, mice are easily enticed by any form of nourishment. This indiscriminate appetite for food poses significant challenges, particularly in the restaurant industry.
Mice are essentially omnivores, displaying a preference for a diverse diet that includes grains, seeds, meat, and fruits. In essence, they are highly adaptable eaters, consuming anything that provides ample carbohydrates. They are also known to survive on minimal amounts of food and water each day.
Interestingly, the culinary repertoire of mice extends beyond traditional food items. They have no qualms about snacking on electrical wiring, paper packaging, or cardboard boxes. Experiments have revealed that mice do have specific food preferences that strongly attract them. These include fruits, such as berries, pet food, nuts, various types of meat, plants, leftovers from dinner, grains, and seeds.
Reproduction of mice
The gestation period of a female mouse, or the duration of her pregnancy, typically lasts approximately 19 to 21 days before she gives birth to a litter. A typical litter consists of around five or six mouse pups, although it is not uncommon to observe as many as 12 pups in a litter on occasion.
A female mouse is capable of producing approximately 5 to 10 litres per year. Remarkably, she can mate again immediately after giving birth, which means that she can give birth to a second litter in a very short time frame, as little as 25 days after the initial birth! This cycle continues until the mother mouse reaches the end of her life. Interestingly, by the time the mother mouse retires from breeding, her offspring have likely already produced numerous litters of their own.
When mouse pups are born, they are without fur and ears, making them extremely vulnerable. They are also born blind. The mother mouse takes on the responsibility of nursing her pups for the next 21 days. During this time, the pups undergo rapid growth and development. By the fourth day, their ears are fully formed, and by the sixth day, their bodies start to show the growth of fur.
The pups will open their eyes around the 13th or 14th day, marking a significant milestone in their development. By this point, they are considered fully mature. Around the 21st day, the pups become independent, and male pups leave their mother’s territory. However, young female pups tend to stay with their families for a longer period of time.
Predators Of Mice?
Extensive research and observation have revealed the remarkable fertility of mice, as they have the ability to reproduce approximately 5 to 10 times per year. Each time they give birth, a litter of around 4 to 12 pups is born, resulting in a significant population of mice.
In the natural order of things, there exists a balance in the world’s population to sustain the intricate relationships within the food chain. When there is an abundance of a particular species that serve as prey, it inevitably attracts a variety of predators that rely on them for sustenance.
If we were to compile a comprehensive list of mice predators, it would include a wide range of creatures, such as hawks, crows, eagles, blue jays, herons, falcons, owls, shrikes, snakes, lizards, geckos, bearded dragons, skinks, monitor lizards, cats, canids (such as foxes and wolves), ferrets, mongooses, skunks, minks, jackals, coyotes, and even humans. These diverse predators play their part in maintaining the balance of nature by preying upon mice and helping to regulate their population.
Comparison between Vole vs. Mouse
- Physical Appearance
When comparing voles and mice in terms of physical appearance, it becomes evident that mice have a slender body structure, while voles have a more robust and heavier build. Additionally, voles possess smaller ears, eyes, and tails compared to mice.
The habitat preferences of voles and mice are completely opposite. Mice tend to seek shelter and protection indoors, often living in close proximity to humans. On the other hand, voles prefer open spaces such as fields and gardens.
There is a significant difference in the dietary preferences of voles and mice. Mice are predominantly omnivorous, consuming both plant and animal matter. In contrast, voles are primarily herbivorous, relying mainly on plant-based food sources.
- Reproductive Behavior
Voles and mice have similar lifespans of about one year. However, their reproductive behaviours differ to some extent. Voles can reproduce throughout the year but exhibit a preference for giving birth in the spring. Mice, on the other hand, have the ability to breed at any time without specific preferences. Female mice have shorter pregnancies, lasting approximately 10 to 20 days, whereas voles have gestation periods lasting around 20 to 30 days.
- Interaction with Humans
Both voles and mice are known to coexist and interact closely with human environments. However, the nature of the problems they cause differs. Voles, with their outdoor habitat and burrowing behaviour, can create havoc in yards and gardens, damaging plants through their digging and dietary habits. Mice, as indoor pests, pose health risks and can contaminate food storage areas within homes.
Female voles have the ability to produce multiple litters each year, typically consisting of 2 to 3 offspring, but occasionally reaching as many as nine.
- Female voles become capable of mating within 25 days of their own birth, while males acquire the ability to mate at around 45 days old.
- Voles prefer to seek safety by residing in underground burrows, which helps them avoid potential predators.
- Mice have a diverse palate and enjoy a variety of foods, including fruits like berries, pet food, nuts, various types of meat, grains and seeds, plants, and leftovers from human dinners.
- Mice are highly fertile and can reproduce approximately 5 to 10 times in a single year, with each birth resulting in a litter of about 4 to 12 pups.
- The eyes of mouse pups typically open between the 13th and 14th day after birth, marking their transition into full-grown individuals.
This entire assemblage of facts and details, dwelling in the life patterns and preferences of both rodents, has equipped us with a treasure of knowledge that not only helps us identify and distinguish them from each other – but also provides us with novel learning opportunities.
Conclusively both voles and mice are very similar to each other physically. Although they can fairly easily be distinguished by size, with the vole being a touch larger, the best way to tell them apart is by looking at their behaviour as this is what differs the most between them.
Are voles considered mice?
The answer is no, they are not. Both may be small rodents, but they have their own distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another.
Are mice bigger than voles?
While both species belong to the same family, they do have some noticeable physical variations. In terms of size, voles tend to be smaller than mice, with a length of about 3.5 to 7 inches, compared to mice that range from 5 to 8 inches.
Voles also have a rounder, stockier build, while mice have a more slender body shape. Despite their size differences, both species are known for their ability to scatter and hide, making them quite elusive creatures.
Will a vole eat a dead mouse?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. These small, plump rodents are known for their herbivorous diets, but they won’t turn their noses up at a free meal. In fact, voles have been known to feast on a variety of dead animals, including birds and other rodents. They will scavenge for food whenever possible, and a carcass left unattended is fair game.
The study of rodents has provided us with a wealth of information that gives us a deeper understanding of their intricate life patterns and preferences. Through close examination, we can identify and distinguish voles and mice from one another based on various physical features and behaviours.
While both species share some similarities, such as physical appearance, the key difference lies in their behaviour. Observing the unique behaviours of each species has opened up new avenues for learning and has allowed us to gain insight into their complex lives.
A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.