Rodents of all species and types are typically associated with a fast reproduction cycle and a short life. That’s not true for all rodents, as some reproduce rarely, in small numbers, and have longer lives, but it’s defiantly true for voles. In fact, voles are among the fastest rodents in the world in term of their reproduction, as well as their short life expectancy.
And while the fact that voles live short lives may sound like a positive, their ridiculously fast reproduction more than makes up for it when it comes to their status as pests. When a species is capable of mating like crazy, even the shortest lifespan can’t stop them from becoming mind-bogglingly numerous really fast. Case in point, voles are actually the most common mammal in countries such as Britain, according to the British’s research on the matter.
Why does that matter for you as a homeowner, however? Whether they are quick to reproduce or just live longer, either way, you’ll still have to deal with all of them should you find them on your property, right? Well, not quite.
A rodent’s accelerated reproduction cycle means that you’ll have much less time to react to their presence before their population grows out of control. It also means that you can’t afford to miss even a single pair of voles in your control efforts or you’ll have the exact same problem on your hands in a matter of weeks.
Moreover, knowing and understanding vole’s life cycle and lifespan can help you know when are voles most active, and when you should be looking for what vole signs.
So, let’s dig in.
Voles’ reproductive cycle
The reproduction cycle of voles is so fast it sounds unbelievable. A female vole will reach sexual maturity in around thirteen days – that’s less than two weeks. Add to that the fact that voles’ gestation period is 16 – 24 days, depending on the vole’s exact sub-species and external circumstances, and a female vole can have her first litter as early as the end of her first month of life. A typical vole litter has 5 to 8 baby voles in it but it could have more. And when you consider that any female baby vole in that first litter will also have her first litter in one more month, it becomes clear how fast these rodents can populate an area.
The nurturing time isn’t very long either. The mother – or sometimes the father – will nurture the young litter for several days but then they’ll move on and mate again. Young voles become self-sufficient even sooner than they reach sexual maturity so they require a very short period of care from the parents.
Voles’ mating behavior
This quick reproduction cycle is while a lot of male voles are not monogamous. In some vole species such as the prairie vole or the woodland vole, monogamous behavior has been observed. In other species, however, such as the meadow vole which much more often bothers homeowners and farmers, the males are promiscuous and leave the female’s side to go mate again as quickly as possible. This makes such vole species even faster to reproduce and overpopulate an area.
Most scientists believe that the evolutionary reason for the mating differences between voles is that species like the woodland and prairie vole needs to be monogamous in order to protect the litter from predators. Meadow voles, on the other hand, tend to populate areas that have less natural predators in them – not none, but less in comparison – and that’s why it’s beneficial for them to focus on a faster reproduction cycle at the expense of less care for the younglings.
Whatever the reason, most voles you might encounter in or around your property will most likely be polygamous and reproduce at an accelerated rate. Voles typically start their reproduction cycle at the beginning of spring – March and April for the Northern hemisphere – and go on until the start of winter in November and even December. If you’re wondering do voles hibernate, the answer is no.
However, they are less active during the winter months – they don’t reproduce, they molt to help retain body heat, and they keep themselves busy building tunnels in the dirt beneath the snow and eating all the vegetation they can find.
Like most other species with accelerated life cycles, voles have a really short lifespan. Most small species with a vole size of fewer than 4 inches have an average life span of 3 to 6 months and rarely live long enough to reach one year of age. This may sound too short, but keep in mind that in that time a female vole can give birth to 2 to 5 litters. Larger vole species like the European water vole live longer and have a slightly slower reproduction cycle. Such a vole can live to two years, and sometimes even three, but that’s rare.
On average, around 88% of voles are estimated to die within their first month of life, usually right at or after the birth of the first litter. Despite that, the average of 3 to 6 months of life holds because those that survive can live for several more months.
Voles may not live the longest lives but they make the most of them by reproducing as soon and as quickly as possible. Even a lonely pair of voles can turn any yard or lawn into a fully-infested vole kingdom in a couple of months. When you couple that with the fact that they are mostly subterranean rodents that rarely go above ground, catching a vole infestation in time is a very hard task. That’s why prevention is the best thing you can do for your property in order to make sure that you’ll never have too large of a vole problem.