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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Prairie Vole
Order Rodentia : Family Muridae : Microtus ochrogaster (Wagner)

Description. A dark (brownish or blackish) mouse with tail less than twice as long as hind foot, ears almost hidden in long, lax fur, and only five plantar tubercles; underparts tinged with buff. External measurements average: total length, 146 mm; tail, 34 mm; hind foot, 20 mm. Weight, 30-50 g.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Known in Texas only from Hardin County in southeastern Texas, and Hansford and Lipscomb counties in the extreme northern Panhandle.

Habits. Prairie voles for the most part inhabit tall-grass prairies. They live in colonies, utilizing underground burrows and surface runways under lodged vegetation for concealment and protection. Their burrows are said to be shallow but complex in their ramifications and to contain large storage chambers. In farming regions they frequently take up winter quarters in shocks of corn and other small grains which offer both food and protection. Their nests are rather large structures, averaging about 20 by 10 by 10 cm in length, width, and height and may be placed either above ground or in underground chambers about 12 cm below the surface. Small hillocks of earth and pieces of grass at the entrances of burrows often indicate the presence of underground nests.

Their food is almost entirely vegetable matter including green parts of plants, seeds, bulbs, and bark, much of which they store for winter use. They also seem to relish flesh and feed on their own kind caught and killed by traps.

Their breeding habits are not well-known. They probably breed throughout the year. Gravid females have been captured in the winter months of November, January, and February. The main season, however, is in spring and summer. Apparently each breeding female produces several litters a year, the size of which varies from two to six and averages about four. At birth the young are blind, nearly naked, and helpless. They mature rather rapidly and are capable of reproducing in their first year.

Remarks. Previously, this vole was known in Texas on the basis of a single specimen captured at Sour Lake (Hardin County) in 1902. No additional specimens have since been encountered at this locality; however, eight specimens recently were recorded by the late J. Knox Jones, Jr., and his students at Texas Tech University from two counties (Hansford and Lipscomb) in the northern Panhandle. It is probable that this species is extirpated from southeastern Texas but a small, relic population still survives in the northern Texas Panhandle.