Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris, Arvicola sapidus)

 

Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Muridae
Size:    Length: 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm)  Tail: 6 inches (15 cm)
Weight: 3 to 10 ounces (85 to 283 grams)
Diet: Mainly grasses and plants, as well as twigs, buds, fruit, bulbs and roots
Distribution: Europe and western North America
Young:  2 to 8, 3 to 4 times per year
Animal Predators:  Minks, owls, herons, foxes, stoats, cats and rats
IUCN Status: No special status/Lower Risk, Near Threatened (see Conservation below)
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: From 5 months to 3 years in the wild and 5 years in captivity

 

Facts/Trivia:

       One of the characters in the classic book Wind in the Willows is a water vole named Ratty.

       The Scottish Wildlife Trust estimates that the water vole may be extinct in the U.K. by 2003.

       The water vole and its habitat are legally protected under U.K.ís Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Description

Water voles are also known as water rats, as they resemble brown rats, but have a rounder face, not the long snout typical of rats. They have thick, brown fur with a reddish tinge. Their tail is shorter and their eyes and ears are smaller than those of rats. Unlike rats, water voles have hair on their tail. They have four toes on their front paws and five toes on their hind paws. 

 

Habitat

Once widespread in England, Wales and Scotland, loss of habitat and predation by the introduced and extremely aggressive American mink has led to a serious population decline. In addition to the United Kingdom, water voles are found in various parts of Europe such as Holland and Germany, where they are exposed to the same threats. Water voles can also be found in western North America, from British Columbia and Alberta through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. They dig burrows in the banks of streams, ponds and canals, or in fields or forests near water. 

 

Feeding Habits

Their diet consists mainly of grasses and plants, in addition to twigs, buds, fruit, bulbs and roots. 

 

Reproduction

Within the burrow, water voles construct a nest of grass. They usually have a 22-day gestation period and give birth to litters of two to eight (but usually four to six) offspring within a burrow. Although they are born with no fur, the tiny babies grow a coat within five days, and by their eighth day, their eyes have opened. In just two weeks they are weaned, and they quickly learn to gather food. A burrow usually consists of an adult couple, their current litter and offspring from the previous litter. 

 

Behaviour

Water voles can be active both day and night. They mark their territories with secretions from the scent glands on their feet. Water voles are rarely seen by people, and will dive into the water when they hear anyone approaching. Although they do not hibernate, water voles store some food for the winter and become less active during that time.

 

Conservation

The southern water vole (Arvicola sapidus), found in France, Portugal and Spain, is listed by the IUCN as Lower Risk, Near Threatened. 

 

Sources

http://www.ukbap.org.uk/plans/species/NBNSYS0000005114.htm

http://www.first-nature.com/mammals/arvicola_terrestris.htm

http://www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/cornwall/species/wvoles.htm

http://www.rmcp.co.uk/WaterVole.html

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/watervol.htm

http://www.redlist.org/search/details.php?species=2150

Water Vole Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US