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Voles -- Be on the lookout

February 14, 2009|By ROBERT KESSLER

Voles, also known as meadow mice or field mice, can cause severe damage, especially during winter when they are active under the cover of snow.

In winter, the voles' diet consists of bark, which they chew from shrubs and tree trunks that are less than 4 inches in diameter. If the bark is damaged in a complete circle around the trunk or main stem (called girdling), the plant will die.

Voles live on the surface of the ground, creating little round tunnels in grassy vegetation. This trail is most noticeable in spring after the snow has melted.

Occasionally, voles construct shallow underground tunnels.

Voles seldom enter homes but might be observed in farm buildings or garages where grain or hay is stored.

Voles often scurry back and forth in their tunnels, gathering seeds from beneath bird feeders. Voles are active both day and night gathering enough food to satisfy their voracious appetites.

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Damage from voles can be prevented or minimized through the use of habitat modification, mechanical barriers, traps and poison bait stations.

You can modify the voles' habitat by eliminating food, ground cover and plant litter. Place hardware cloth cylinders (1/4-inch mesh or finer) around the trunks of young trees and shrubs.

The cloth cylinder should be dug into the ground at least 6 inches and should extend well above the anticipated snow level. Wrap tree trunks with plastic tree guards.

Mousetraps baited with peanut butter can be effective on a small scale. Place traps adjacent and perpendicular to grassy runways and trails.

Cover the traps with a box or shingle but make sure the trap can still close. During the warmer months, maintain a lawn height of 3 inches or less.

Rodenticides labeled for outdoor use against voles are not generally cost-effective, but they can be used. Rodenticides must be used according to the instructions on the container label.

Bait stations should be used with extreme caution because they pose a threat to children, pets and other non-targeted wild animals and birds. Hardware cloth, traps, and rodenticides are available at nurseries, hardware or farm supply stores.

In general, modification of habitat and placement of barriers results in the most economical and effective control.

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at rxk4@psu.edu.

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