Water Voles are water loving mammals, living in burrows by the sides of rivers. They are hunted in Russia and considered a "pest" in much of Europe.
Amazing Facts About the Water Vole (European)
- The shy, secretive water vole is the largest vole in the British Isles. It inhabits the banks of rivers, ponds and canals, but in other parts of the world it is less aquatic and lives mainly on pasture land. It can often be found living far from water, especially in gardens and orchards and some prefer to live this way all year round.
- There are another two species of water voles found all over the world (known as richardsoni and sapidus), from Europe, Siberia and Southwestern Asia to Canada and Northwestern USA.
- Water voles usually live in small family groups.
- They live in waterside burrows, which they dig in the banks of slow-flowing lowland rivers and canals, or ponds and streams – wherever the water level is fairly constant. They build a ball shaped nest of grass and other plant material.
- The burrows have many floor levels that hinder flooding, as well as nesting chambers and a food store for the long winter months.
- They may also build a little platform of twigs and grass on tufts of weed where they will sunbathe.
- The water vole has a definite range, usually over about 130m of water bank for the male and rather less for the female. The male in particular marks its territory with secretions from flank glands. It rakes its hind feet over the gland to push the secretion out and then stamps it into the ground. The male and female will sometimes fight if there is overcrowding within the range.
- The water vole has a distinctive call of a rasping squeak when frightened and a high, shrill squeak when fighting, which you can sometimes hear before seeing them.
- Females can give birth to a litter 22 days after a previous one.
- Young voles weigh a mere 5g each. They grow furry coats five days after they are born. Three days later they open their eyes and are weaned at 14 days old, by which time they are half their full adult size. They become sexually mature at 5 weeks old.
- During periods of peak population, more than 100 water voles may inhabit one hectare of land.
- Water voles are very strong swimmers and can swim up to 500m on the surface or 15m underwater!
- When they are being chased through the water by, for example, an otter, they will kick up a cloud of mud underwater that acts like a smokescreen to help their getaway.
- They will also make several underwater entrances to its burrow – enabling easy access as well as escape routes if chased by a predator.
- They are hunted in Russia and considered a pest in much of Europe.
- Over recent years its numbers have declined in Britain.
- It is easy to confuse the water vole with a brown rat. However, its muzzle is blunter and more rounded, its tail shorter, its back not so arched and its fur soft and shaggy – the rats being sleeker and stiffer. Like the rat, it is usually brown in colour and can be black.
- Ratty, in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, was actually a water vole.
- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Mainly grasses and water side plants
- Lifespan: About 5 months
- Size: Length: head and body is between 14-22cm, Tail: can be as long as 14cm
- Weight: 150-300g
- Habitat: They live in the banks of slow moving rivers, streams and other waterways.
- Range: Widespread around Europe
- Scientific name: Arvicola amphibious (formerly Avicola terrestris)