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.
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.
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.
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.
Why Are Water Voles Endangered?
Although once common, water voles are now endangered. In the United Kingdom, they're the most endangered mammal species! According to the British Wildlife Centre, over 90% of the water voles in England disappeared between 2005 and 2012. It's against the law for people to disturb a water vole's home.
The main reason water voles are endangered is because of habitat loss. This means that the areas in which they live are being destroyed; for example, people may be building roads that disturb the areas where they usually live. Another cause is the American mink, an animal that's not native to the United Kingdom, but was brought there for fur farming many years ago. Minks feed on the water voles and other small animals.
The water vole, which is often mistaken for a rat, is a small, semi-aquatic, endangered mammal that lives in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. They're mostly herbivores, and live near small streams or ponds. In the United Kingdom, water voles are now an endangered species due to habitat loss and predators.
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