Who makes those Tunnels?
Along the Towpath and throughout our Metroparks, one of our most common small mammals is busy constructing and using a unique and ecologically important underground system of trails. A tiny but mighty engineer, the Meadow Vole excavates shallow networks of labyrinths throughout grassy areas and then uses them for foraging, food caching, and breeding. Winter is a great time to observe the work of the Meadow Vole, whose efforts are most easily noticed right after a snow melt.
Similar in size and appearance to mice but with very short tails, voles can often be found at home using their two inch wide, underground “runways” in the nearest prairie or meadow habitat. Very well adapted to digging and active during all seasons, they mostly feed on the grasses that grow just overhead.
Most active during the daytime, they use their trail systems as safe underground havens while feeding---eating their weight in grasses and other plants every 24 hours. They scamper, hidden safely in these tunnels unseen by the keen eye of the predator, often snipping off blades of grass and sneakily tugging at and caching roots, seeds and bulbs. A few fun facts about Meadow Voles include that they are also excellent swimmers, divers and even sprinters. Running, they can reach speeds of up to six miles per hour!
On the occasions that they traverse above ground to girdle the bark of a sapling or travel to another habitat, they are at risk of being seen by a hungry predator. Raptors, coyotes, and foxes are always in search of voles, and their populations serve a very important role as prey in ecosystems.
Underground systems like the ones that the voles create not only assist in their biological success, but aid other species that use the same grassland habitat. For example, blue racer snakes were found to share these same trails, and bumblebees use parts of them for nesting sites.
The next time you are hiking the Towpath, check nearby meadows to see if you can find evidence of the Meadow Vole’s daily activities, and keep in mind that without grassland habitats, wildlife like this one wouldn’t exist as an important part of our ecosystem. Conservation of many types of natural habitats is crucial for continued wildlife diversity in the Metroparks. If you missed any of the videos, stories, and activities you can visit metroparkstoledo.com/wintering!