Water Vole Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever seen a water vole? They're small, furry mammals, sometimes mistaken for rats. In this lesson you'll learn some interesting facts about water voles, including the difference between a water vole and a rat.

What Is a Water Vole?

Have you ever read the book, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame? One of the characters in the book, called 'Ratty,' is actually a water vole. Water voles are small mammals that look much like rats.

Water Vole

About the same size as a brown rat, water voles are 6.5 to 10 inches long, with 5- to 6-inch long tails. They weigh about 80-180 grams, which is less than a pound, with reddish brown fur on their backs and grayish brown fur underneath. They have very small ears that are difficult to see, and have bright orange incisor teeth. Water voles usually live about 1.5 to 2 years.

Facts About Water Voles

Water voles are found in North America, the United Kingdom and Europe, usually near small streams, ponds and lakes. They are semi-aquatic, which means they live on both water and land. Water voles have little flaps of skin that cover their ears to keep out the water when they're swimming.

Their homes are burrows that have entrances on land and in water. This comes in handy when they have to escape from predators.

Water voles are herbivores; they mostly eat plants. They like to eat in the same place every day, so they often leave piles of chewed stems at that spot. Water voles sometimes eat small invertebrate animals, such as insects or worms.

Some voles even like to sunbathe! They use small twigs and stems to build a platform on which they stretch out in the sun.

Female voles have four or five litters of babies each year, with three to seven babies in each litter, born between April and September. Water voles are sociable and usually live in small groups with other family members.

How Can You Distinguish Voles from Rats?

Although they're about the same size and the same color, water voles and rats do have differences. If you look closely, you can easily tell them apart. A water vole has a short, blunt nose and very small ears that are hard to see. In contrast, a rat's nose is long and pointy, and rats have ears that are easy to see. Rats are long and thin, while water voles are somewhat chubby-looking. Finally, check their tails to see whether or not they have hair. A rat's tail is much longer and is hairless, while a water vole's tail has hair.

Brown Rat

Rats are also very good swimmers and move through the water quickly. A water vole looks more like it's floating or bobbing along, rather than swimming quickly. Rats are found almost everywhere, but water voles are found only on the banks of streams or rivers.

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