A lot of snow cover during the winter can be both good and bad. Good because it’s beautiful and nice for winter sports. It also insulates overwintering perennial roots from temperature fluctuations and extremes. One of the negative impacts is that the snow provides cover for the activity of voles. These small mouse-like rodents feed on the bark of roots or lower trunks of woody plants during the winter and they are likely to feed where protected by shelter, including snow.

Vole tunnels left in turf grass during winter under the snow. (Photo: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org )

As the snow melts in the spring, look for tunnel-like tracks in lawns and gardens that are telltale signs of their activity in the area. If plants that were healthy last season are weak or fail to leaf out completely this year, look for evidence of vole damage as shown in the photos.

Meadow vole damage.  Photo: Robert L. Anderson,  USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org (upper photo)   Vole damage to a large fruit tree root; note teeth marks. Photo: Paul Bachi, Univ of KY Research & Educ. Ctr., Bugwood.org (lower photo)

Two voles species are common in our area, the pine vole and the meadow vole. Pine voles feed primarily on the roots below ground while meadow voles prefer to feed on bark above the soil line. More information on vole damage and control is available in this Cornell University fact sheet.

By J. Allen