INTRODUCTION: As the deep snows in our yards or on our properties recede, you may be greeted by one or more pathways in the snow. If you’re lucky, these paths only run from one burrow opening to another. Unfortunately, some of the trails probably lead to some of your favorite trees and the damage caused by the animals girdling (gnawing the bark off all the way around the plant) the tree will kill it. Most vole damage occurs in the winter when voles move through their grass runways under protection of snow or where there are thick, tall grasses and weeds. Heaviest vole damage seems to coincide with years of heavy snowfall. Voles are active day and night throughout the year. They usually live 2 to 16 months. Voles construct many surface runways and underground tunnels with many burrow entrances.
DESCRIPTION: Many people distinguish “meadow mice” from “field mice” by the fact that meadow mice (more properly called “voles”) have blunt snouts and short ears barely visible through the fur. Most of the eight species of voles that make Colorado home are brownish in color, but the sagebrush vole is gray and the southern red-backed vole has a brick-red patch on its back. Size ranges from less than six inches and 1½ ounces for sagebrush voles to about seven inches long and up to 2 ½ ounces for meadow and prairie voles.
RANGE: Except for prairie uplands in the east and the southwestern desert valleys, most parts of Colorado support one or more species of voles. Many of the voles live in meadows, but the sagebrush vole lives in sagebrush and the Mogollon (formerly Mexican) vole in ponderosa pine savannah.
Habitat: Most species select habitats with good ground cover where their presence is revealed by runways, 1 ½ inches wide, often beneath a roof of thatch and littered with cut grass stems.
DIET: Voles eat mostly plants. Red-backed and heather voles eat fungi, fruits, seeds and some leaves, but other voles are mostly grazers. Like other mammals that feed on abrasive grasses, they have ever-growing cheekteeth that are continually replaced from below as the crowns wear away.
Reproduction: Voles are extremely prolific, having three to six young per litter and three to 12 litters per year. Females may become pregnant at three weeks of age and voles breed almost year round. Large population fluctuations ranging from 14 to 500 voles per acre are common.
VISIBLE EVIDENCE: Signs of voles being present include: 1) 1- to 2-inch wide runways through matted grass and burrows; 2) visual sightings; 3) hawks circling overhead and diving into fields; and 4) spongy soil from burrowing activity. Trees that appear to be suffer from disease or insect infestation may be suffering from unseen vole damage.
CONTROL METHODS: A few ways to prevent and control vole damage are: habitat management, trapping and poison baits. Voles are non-game animals in Colorado and may be captured or killed when they create a nuisance or damage property.
DESCRIPTION: Several kinds of burrowing rodents are sometimes called “gophers,” but we should avoid such loose talk and reserve the term for pocket gophers. These are remarkable and distinctive animals. Their pockets are external, fur-lined cheek-pouches that carry food and nesting material.
Every part of Colorado has some kind of pocket gopher. The animals vary widely in color, often matching the soil in which they live: dark in mountain meadows and ashy pale in the San Luis Valley. Size ranges from a diminutive gopher (less than eight inches long and less than four ounces) in the sagebrush hills of Moffat County to a whopping 12 inches long and nearly 11 ounces in some plains pocket gophers.
Gophers are underground animals and are seldom seen. Mole-shaped, they are neck-less with tiny eyes and ear flaps, but their yellow-faced front teeth are unmistakable.
RANGE: The northern pocket gopher lives in the mountains and northwest, the valley pocket gopher inhabits southern and western valleys, the chestnut-faced pocket gopher is found in the southeast, and the plains pocket gopher, logically enough, lives on the plains.
HABITAT: Their burrows also are distinctive. They usually are plugged (so the mound of excavated soil has no hole in it), and they are deep enough that a ridge of turf is not created. Northern and valley pocket gophers create solid ribbons or “garlands” of excavated soil beneath the snow, which are exposed with spring thaw.
Burrows may be 200 yards long, produced by moving tons of soil. They can be a nuisance when they burrow through ditch banks or throw mounds in the path of a mower. They aerate the soil, however, and provide deep channels that conserve runoff.
DIET: The diet of a pocket gopher consists of primarily roots, tubers and succulent stems under meadows, pastures and hay-lands.
REPRODUCTION: Pocket gophers breed just once a year, in late winter or spring, producing two to five pink, blind, hairless young after a gestation period of perhaps three to four weeks. Coyotes and badgers excavate and eat pocket gophers. Gopher snakes and weasels are slim enough to follow them home, and spring floods kill nestlings. In their brief trips above ground, they can be caught by owls. A gopher that survives these perils may live five years.
We service the following areas/locations: Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West, Calhan, Falcon, Peyton, Elbert, Ellicott, Security, Widefield, Black Forest, Monument, Larkspur, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, and the US Air Force Academy.