Water Vole Facts

Water Vole Facts
1. Rat-sized with blunt nose; dark chestnut-brown to black fur; short rounded ears; hair-covered tail, which is about half length of head and body.

2. Water voles live close to water and spend a lot of time swimming and eating plants on the bankside. They dive into the water with a ‘plop’ when they are frightened.

3. Very thick, special hair which traps air when they dive under the water. The trapped air keeps the cold water away from their body and so keeps them warm.

4. Small ears and inside the ears is a special flap of skin which closes when the water vole dives under the water.

5. Surprisingly, however, water voles are rather basic swimmers. 

6. Ratty from ‘Wind in the Willows’ was actually a water vole. Water voles are very short sighted. You could bring your face to within 30 cm of a vole’s face, looking into its eyes and it would go on eating! 

7. They eat stems, leaves, roots, bulbs, flowers and bark of lots of different waterside plants including grass. Water voles store food inside their burrows and are very fond of apples. 

8. A water vole can find wind-fall apples in gardens or crab apples growing wild and float them across a river to its burrow!

9. Water voles are rodents like mice, rats, gerbils and hamsters. This means that they have long front teeth which never stop growing yet are always being worn away by nibbling. 

10. They are about the size of a large hamster (12-20cm long). 

11. Their fur is glossy brown or black (particularly in Scotland) and some water voles have small white patches of fur too. 

12. Unlike rats they have hairy tails.

13. Water voles live for about 2 years. 

14. Females can have up to 5 litters a year between April and September with up to 6 babies in each litter. 

15. This might sound like a lot but water voles also have a lot of predators such as owls, rats, stoats, herons, eagles, mink, cats and even large fish.

16. Water voles excavate extensive burrow systems into the banks of waterways. These have sleeping/nest chambers at various levels in the steepest parts of the bank and usually have underwater entrances to give the animals a secure route for escape if danger threatens. They will also weave nests of reeds and sedges in marshy areas.

17. The water vole is often confused with the brown rat, which is slightly larger and has a pointed nose and a shorter, naked tail.


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