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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Mouse of the North Woods

Southern Red-backed Vole (Myodes gapperi), Kiskatinaw Campground, British Columbia

There wasn't much time for camera trapping when we had only a month to drive 7000 miles and see the sights on the AlCan Highway.

There was no time to hump through the muskeg or climb through the slash.

I told myself to forget about lynx, wolves, and wolverines and set my sights on campground fauna.

And that's where I met the Southern Red-backed Vole (hereafter RBV).

They greedily scarfed sunflower seeds before my camera traps.

I expected deer mice, but the Southern RBV seemed to be the dirt-common mouse of the north woods.

I found them in conifer forests, aspen groves, and degraded woodland common around RV parks. 

I thought voles were herbivores, but red backed voles are more omnivorous than many voles of the genus Microtus, and they also eat underground fungi.

Some related voles are good climbers, but the Southern RBV's short legs, long chassis, and short tail is designed for running on the ground.

And unlike meadow voles, they don't engineer tunnels in low growing vegetation.

The Southern RBV is found across Canada, and ranges as far south as the Columbia River in the northwest US, but it apparently managed to reach New Mexico and Arizona via the Rocky Mountains.

It's well adapted to northern climes, starts breeding under thick snow, and lives a year on average, though a few survive to see a second winter.  

I appreciate this denizen of the north woods, and was pleased to add it to my list of camera-trapped  critters.


Foresman, K.R. 1012. Mammals of Montana. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula.

Armstrong, D.M., J.P. Fitzgerald, and C. A. Meaney. 2011. Mammals of Colorado. Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Boulder.


john said...

I have enjoyed watching Short-eared Owls pouncing down on their close cousins, Northern Red-backed Voles, even though they were under a blanket of snow.

Camera Trap Codger said...

A rare observation, John. I imagine these little guys feed a lot of hungry animals.