Science Bloggers for Students DonorsChoose Challenge

Friday, September 05, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Voles

Voles are also called field mice, but there are several different types of field mice; it is a catch all phrase for mice that live out in nature. Voles are most common in undisturbed or not-so-much disturbed land areas - like field, woods, overgrown lots, and especially rural areas. But they can do okay in urban areas as long as there is some great lawns for them to occupy. A great sign of a vole in your yard is if you have sunken trails, usually along the fence line. Voles use tunnels or runways and they love tall grass. For those of you have have cats that do some hunting, you may have seen an unlucky vole in your pet cat's mouth. Unlike house mice, they have stouter bodies, are more uniformly brown and are distinct because of their small ears and short tail.

NPR has been busy lately - sharing many interesting stories about animal behavior. And of course my great (and nerdy) friends call me up and say "Oooh, did you hear that story on NPR about X animal? Do you know about that? Do you know the researcher?" Earlier this week NPR did a feature on faithfulness and genes that looks at the Mighty, Mighty Microtus ochrogaster - the Prairie vole: Marriage Woes? Husband's Genes May Be At Fault

Aren't they just cute and adorable? [photo credit: flynnroad.net/pix/vole/images/babies%207.JPG] And they are also monogamous, So researcher Dr. Larry Young from Emory (and yes, I do know of him. I haven't met him personally, but I gave him -his lab) many of my prairie voles last year when my studies were complete --- so there's a fewer than 6 degrees of separation, here....just go with me). Back to the Story. Dr. Young studies psychology and using animal models to duplicate some aspects of human behavior. This research looks at the biological underpinnings of monogamy and perhaps fidelity. Read the story, it's quick and easy so interesting.

My research with voles looks at how the family dynamics of this species influence how the young ones grow up and behave later in life. I am analyzing the results as at this moment (literally, no kidding), so I'll be quite happy to share it with you all in a few short weeks when I defend. Yeah!

In the meantime here are some pictures of me at work with the voles. Though I catch wild voles in the field, I raise them in lab and study them there.

3 comments:

intisar said...

this is so cool! glad to see you in your environment/in action. sometimes you only imagine what family members are really doing. this is so inspirational!

Roberta said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I didn't know voles were found in urban areas, I thought they were pretty wild.

Do you know anything about their communication using sound? Our house mice make so many different sounds. I recently read the males sing to the females, but it is ultrasonic so we can't hear it. Do voles do anything like that?

DNLee said...

Yes, they do an ultra sonic thing. And they chatter but only when upset. I mainly noticed it when I was handling them. I've seen it a few times between 2 voles when they weren't getting along.

But I don't have any experience with sound communication, but I do have alot of expereince with chemical or olfactory communication. Most rodents use body secretions (poop, oil, urine) to communicate.

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