Prairie Vole Vs Meadow Vole

**Prairie Vole vs Meadow Vole: What’s the Difference?**

Have you ever wondered about the differences between prairie voles and meadow voles? These small rodents may seem similar at first glance, but they actually have distinct characteristics and behaviors that set them apart. In this article, we will delve into the world of voles and explore the unique features of prairie voles and meadow voles. Let’s uncover the details and unravel the mystery of these fascinating creatures.


Voles are small, mouse-like rodents that belong to the family Cricetidae. They are commonly found in grasslands, meadows, and prairies, which explains the names given to the two different species – prairie vole and meadow vole. Despite their similar habitats, they have several differences in terms of physical appearance, behavior, and habitat preference. Let’s take a closer look.

**Physical Appearance**

Prairie voles and meadow voles may look quite similar to the untrained eye, but upon closer inspection, distinct differences become apparent.

Prairie voles:

– Generally have a shorter tail compared to meadow voles.
– Can grow up to 6 inches in length, including the tail.
– Have a stockier build.
– Have short and rounded ears.
– Are covered in a dense fur coat which varies in color from brown to gray.

Meadow voles:

– Have a longer tail, which can be as long as their body.
– Are slightly larger, reaching up to 7 inches in length, including the tail.
– Have a slimmer and more slender build.
– Possess longer and more pointed ears.
– Display a wider range of color variations, including reddish-brown, gray, and black.

**Habitat and Distribution**

Prairie voles and meadow voles have different habitat preferences, which determine their distribution across different regions.

Prairie voles:

– Primarily inhabit grasslands and prairies.
– Can be found in the central and northern parts of North America.
– Thrive in areas with dense vegetation and tall grasses.

Meadow voles:

– Prefer meadows, marshes, and wetlands.
– Have a broader distribution, spanning North America, Europe, and Asia.
– Can adapt to various environments, including grasslands, forests, and agricultural fields.


The behavior of prairie voles and meadow voles showcases further distinctions between the two species.

Prairie voles:

– Are known for their monogamous tendencies and strong pair bonding.
– Engage in extensive social behaviors, including grooming, huddling, and sharing nest-building responsibilities.
– Express a high degree of attachment to their mates and show signs of distress when separated.
– Exhibit more complex social structures than meadow voles.

Meadow voles:

– Are generally promiscuous and do not form long-term monogamous relationships.
– Display less intricate social behaviors, with less time spent on grooming and social interaction.
– Show less attachment to their mates and display less distress when separated.
– Have a simpler social structure compared to prairie voles.

**Diet and Feeding Habits**

Prairie voles and meadow voles have similar diets, although their feeding habits may vary slightly.

Both species:

– Feed primarily on plant matter, including grasses, seeds, and roots.
– Occasionally supplement their vegetarian diet with insects and other small invertebrates.
– Store food in underground burrows during times of abundance.

**Reproduction and Life Cycle**

The reproductive patterns of prairie voles and meadow voles differ significantly, contributing to variations in their life cycles.

Prairie voles:

– Have a shorter gestation period of approximately 21 days.
– Give birth to relatively small litters, typically consisting of 2 to 6 pups.
– Exhibit a higher level of parental care, with both parents actively involved in nurturing and protecting the offspring.
– Reach sexual maturity within a few weeks and can reproduce throughout the year.

Meadow voles:

– Experience a longer gestation period of around 20 to 23 days.
– Produce larger litters, with each litter containing 3 to 7 pups.
– Display less parental involvement, as females are solely responsible for caring for the young.
– Attain sexual maturity at around 30 to 40 days of age and reproduce seasonally.

**Predators and Threats**

Both prairie voles and meadow voles face numerous threats from predators in their respective habitats.

Predators of both species:

– Include owls, hawks, snakes, and small carnivorous mammals like foxes and weasels.
– Often target voles due to their abundance and vulnerability.

**Frequently Asked Questions**

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can prairie voles and meadow voles interbreed?

No, prairie voles and meadow voles are separate species and cannot interbreed.

2. Are prairie voles and meadow voles harmful to humans?

Voles, in general, are not harmful to humans. However, their burrowing activities may damage lawns, gardens, and crops.

3. How long do prairie voles and meadow voles live?

Both species have relatively short lifespans, living, on average, for only a year or two in the wild.

4. Are prairie voles and meadow voles active during the day or night?

Both species are primarily nocturnal, being most active during the night.

5. Can prairie voles and meadow voles be kept as pets?

While it is possible to keep voles as pets in some regions, they are not commonly kept due to their specific care requirements and short lifespans.

**Final Thoughts**

In summary, prairie voles and meadow voles may share some similarities in appearance, but their physical attributes, behavior, habitat preferences, and reproductive patterns distinguish them as separate species. Understanding these differences allows us to appreciate the unique qualities of each vole and further explore the fascinating world of small rodents. Whether you encounter a prairie vole in a grassland or a meadow vole in a wetland, take a moment to observe their characteristics and admire the diversity of nature’s creations.

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