Mammal Species of the World
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Long-tailed voles are found throughout the western United States and Canada up through southeastern Alaska. Different regions are home to different population densities.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Western North America; from east-central Alaska south through western Canada and the western U.S. to southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, east to Colorado. Populations at eastern and southern edges of range generally restricted to high elevations in isolated mountains. Elevational range: sea level to at least 3650 m.
Long-tailed voles are small bodied with long, bicolored tails. Body mass ranges from 20 to 85 g and total length from 150 to 250 mm. The tail is about 30% of their total length. The fur color of these animals varies with its location on the body. The dorsal fur is usually grayish brown with black tips, while the ventral fur is usually light gray color. The skull has a wide braincase, large bullae, a long rostrum, and long incisive foramina. The cheektooth pattern of this type of vole looks prismatic.
Range mass: 20 to 85 g.
Range length: 150 to 250 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.383 W.
Length: 20 cm
Weight: 58 grams
Size in North America
Range: 155-202 mm
Range: 36-59 g
Long-tailed voles occupy a variety of habitats. Some examples of theses habitats include dry grassy areas, mountain slopes, forests, stream banks, sagebrush grasslands, mountain meadows, and riparian zones. Within all of these different types of landscape, long-tailed voles burrow and sometimes create runways underground. In Wyoming, the elevation at which this species can be found is 900 to 3300 meters.
Range elevation: 900 to 3,300 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; mountains
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Breeds mid-May to mid-September in Alaska and Idaho, May-October in Nevada (mostly June-July). In Alberta females will have one to four litters per year (average two). In Alaska, females will have a maximum of two litters during a lifetime. Litter size is an average of four in Alberta, and five in Alaska (Smolen and Keller 1987). Young of year breed in Alberta, not in Alaska.
These voles seldom live more than one year. They may be displaced by the more aggressive M. montanus (Smolen and Keller 1987). Diet includes green vegetation, seeds, berries, and fungi. In winter they may feed on inner bark of shrubs and trees. They are active throughout the year. Most observed activity in Alaska was nocturnal (Smolen and Keller 1987).
Comments: Various habitats ranging from dense coniferous forests to rocky alpine tundra, sagebrush semidesert, moist meadows, marshes, and forest-edge habitat; also recently cut or burned forest. Usually does not make well-defined runways.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Like many rodents, long-tailed voles are herbivores. They feast on green plants, tree roots and bark, flowers, underground fungi, fruits, and seeds. Sometimes they will eat insects. Foraging for these food items occurs on the ground and underneath shrubs.
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Other Foods: fungus
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Granivore , Lignivore, Eats sap or other plant foods)
Comments: Green vegetation, seeds, berries, and fungi. In winter may feed on inner bark of shrubs and trees.
Long-tailed voles play an important role in local ecosystems. As short-lived, rapidly reproducing herbivores, they provide an important prey base for many carnivores. They are undoubtedly vital to local fod webs.
Ecosystem Impact: keystone species
That long-tailed voles are frequent victims of predation is not doubted. However, the quantity of long-tailed voles consumed by such predators is unknown-- paartly because of similarities between the skull morphology of this species and that of Microtus montanus, another popular prey item. When such remains are found, it is difficult to distinguish which species is present.
- barn owls (Tyto alba)
- great horned owls (Bubo virginianus)
- long-eared owls (Asio otus)
- short-eared owls (Asio flammeus)
- prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus)
- ermine (Mustela erminea)
- American martens (Martes americana)
- long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Populations fluctuate dramatically. Population densities are usually relatively low but may build up to 40 or more/ha (Jones et al. 1983). Seldom lives more than 1 year. May be displaced by more aggressive M. MONTANUS (Smolen and Keller 1987).
Life History and Behavior
Information about communication in this species is scant. However, most microtines are known to use some vocalizationsm and it is likely that M. longicaudud is similar in that repsect. The neonates of this species are known to make an ultrasonic cry when disturbed, alerting the mother to their distress.
Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; ultrasound ; chemical
Comments: Active throughout the year. Most observed activity in Alaska was nocturnal (Smolen and Keller 1987).
Most long-tailed voles live for from 2 to 16 months. The average lifespan is about one year. Females usually live longer than males.
Status: wild: 2 to 16 months.
Status: wild: 12 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
No information found.
Like many rodents, long-tailed voles have a breeding season that stretches from May to October. Individuals located farther north have a shorter breeding season. For example, those populations in Alaska have a season extending from mid-May to mid-September. After reaching sexual maturity, females have a maximum of two litters in their lifetime. Female voles may reach sexual maturity by 3 weeks of age.
Pregnant voles construct nests made of plant material and fibers in their burrows. This is where the females give birth to their young. Litters typically contain from 3 to 6 young. The average gestation period is 20 to 23 days.
Breeding interval: These voles may breed twice during a breeding season.
Breeding season: May to October
Range number of offspring: 3 to 6.
Range gestation period: 20 to 23 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 weeks.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average number of offspring: 5.22.
Although details on the development and parental care of this species are lacking, voles are known to give birth to altricial young. These young typically reside in the mother's nest and are nursed there until they are able to forage on their own. Male parental care has not been reported in these animals.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)
Breeds mid-May to mid-September in Alaska and Idaho, May-October in Nevada (mostly June-July). Litters/year: 1-4 in Alberta (average 2); maximum of 2 litters during lifetime for Alaska females. Litter size is 2-8; average 4 in Alberta, 5 in Alaska (Smolen and Keller 1987). Young of year breed in Alberta, not in Alaska.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Microtus longicaudus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 17
Species With Barcodes: 1
Long-tailed voles are considered non-game mammals but are protected by many state governments. If one of these voles causes a major problem, it may be captured or killed.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Long-tailed voles are a nuisance for many people. They burrow, which causes destruction to the orchards and forests above. Also, they eat many crops (such as grains, potatoes, alfalfa, etc.) and other plant material resulting in more damage. Similar to other wild rodents and larger wild mammals, these voles can carry disease organisms, which can be transmitted to humans through contact. It is advised to be cautious when handling these animals.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease
It is unlikely that these animals provide any direct economic benefit to humans. However, because they are important prey animals, they do affect other species that humans find interesting an important. Many avian predators that people like to watch, such as falcons, hawks, and owls seem to rely on these animals for food.
The long-tailed vole (Microtus longicaudus), in some areas known as the San Bernardino long-tailed vole, is a small vole found in western North America. They have short ears and a long tail. Their fur is gray brown with light gray underparts. They are around 18 cm (7.1 in) long with an 8 cm (3.1 in) tail and weigh about 50 g (1.8 oz).
The scientific name of the gray-tailed vole is Microtus longicaudus. The generic name, Microtus, derives from the Greek words μικρός meaning "small" + οὖς "ear". In Latin, the species name longicaudus derives from longus meaning "long" and cauda meaning "tail". The type specimen was a female collected by Vernon Orlando Bailey in the Black Hills at an altitude around 5,500 ft (1,700 m) near Custer, South Dakota, on July 19th, 1887. The description was published by C. Hart Merriam in The American Naturalist the following year. The original scientific name was Arvicola longicaudus. Certain features of the molars were noted, which distinguished the long-tailed vole from other voles known at the time. The species was formerly sometimes regarded as a member of the Old World genus Chionomys.
The Coronation Island vole, once considered to be a separate species, is now believed to be a subspecies.
The long-tailed vole is a small terrestrial mammal. They are around 18 cm (7.1 in) long with an 8 cm (3.1 in) tail. They weigh on average 50 g (1.8 oz). They have a thick body and a relatively long tail. The tail is bicolored and extends greater than one-third the animal's total length. The type specimen measured 185 mm (7.3 in), with a 65 millimetres (2.6 in) tail and a 21 millimetres (0.83 in) hind foot. The ear measured 14 millimetres (0.55 in) x 8 millimetres (0.31 in) x 13 millimetres (0.51 in).
The long-tailed vole is similar in size to the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus). However, it has a longer tail, bigger ears, and grayer coat. In addition, the skull is flatter, and the cranium is wider.
The middle upper molar lacks a posterior-internal loop or spur. Merriam also noted some "peculiarities", not otherwise specified, in the original description, which distinguish the long-tailed vole from other species known in the late 1800s. This first specimen Merriam described had large ears, with folds capable of closing the ear canal opening. Relative to the overall length of the animal, the tail was longer than any other vole described at that time. The fur is a sooty yellow-brown with some grizzled aspects. There are hints of rust coloring on the mid back. The whitish underside fur is a leaden gray towards the base. The underside fur blends seamlessly with the fur on the sides of the vole. The undersides of the tail are darker. The feet are plumbeous, a leaden gray.
The genitalia of the long-tailed vole have been described. The baculum has broad and straight proximal bone. It is similar in structure to that of the meadow vole, but with different proportions. The basal shaft is dumb-bell shaped in cross section and tapers to a blunt point at the end. The shaft is broad in dimension and connects via cartilagnous linkages to three lateral segments. The glans penis has a dorsal lobe elevated above a ventral rim. The rim has spiny fingerlike proceses, but not the dorsal lobe. An rod shaped os clitoridis may be present, in front of the urethra.
Long-tailed voles can be found with unusual dentition. A female with grooved incisors was found in the Yukon. Several other voles from Oregon were found with flattened incisors and malocclusion of their incisors and molars. A specimen in New Mexico was reported with an extra tooth in the right lower jaw. An albino vole was also found in New Mexico.
Long-tailed voles do not usually have the hip glands, which are found in other members of the genus Microtus. These can develop if the animal is injected with testosterone. Each eyelid of the long-tailed vole has around 3-4 meibomian glands.
Fossil remains date towards the end of the Wisconsinian glaciation. Fossils have been collected from: Moonshiner Cave in Idaho; Agate Basin and Little Box Elder Cave in Wyoming; Chimney Rock Animal Trap in Colorado; and Burnet Cave and Dry Cave in New Mexico. The fossil remains of long-tailed voles may be difficult to distinguish from those of similar small voles, such as the meadow vole and the montane vole. As such, collected fossils are identified based on probabilities of occurrence within the geographic range or with other associated species.
Distribution and habitat
These animals are found in a wide variety of habitats, including alpine meadows and shrubby areas, often near streams. They may live in dense forests of conifers or in more arid, sagebrush type of habitats. They are common in areas of disturbed habitat, including areas of recent fire, deforestation, or mining. In Alaska, they do well in areas where clear-cuts have been taken. In the Yukon, they are found among spruce forests and where buffaloberry grow.
They are found at elevations from sea level up to 3,650 m (11,980 ft) above sea level. Near the southern and eastern limits of the geographic range, they tend to reside at higher elevations. Their range extends throughout western North American. The northern limits are in east-central Alaska. The range extends south through the western Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. It extends south and east to include the states of: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.
Behavior and ecology
Long-tailed voles are active year-round, usually during the day. However, in Alaska, they have been observed nocturnally. The usually are free ranging and do not make well defined runways. The breeding season begins in May and extends through September or October, depending on location. The female vole has on average two litters per year, but may have as few as 1 or as many as 4. In northern areas, they may have only two litters over the course of their lifetime. The size of the litter is typically four or five. They may have as many as eight. Long-tailed vole parents will respond to ultrasonic cries made by the newborns in distress. It is unusual for long-tailed voles to live more than one year. Females live longer than males.
The long-tailed vole are apprehensive of other voles. They are found in areas inhabited by other microtines, but generally avoid contact. The montane vole is a more aggressive animal and is known to displace them from their habitat. The more long-tailed voles in a given area, the more aggressive the montane voles become.
They feed on green plants, assorted berries, seeds, and fungi. During the winter, diet may consist of the inner bark of shrubs and trees. During winters in Nevada, they have been observed eating bark and leaves of sagebrush.
Predators include barn owls, great horned owls, long-eared owls, and short-eared owls. Prairie falcons are also reported as predators. Known or suspected mustelid predators of the long-tailed vole include ermines, long-tailed weasels, and American pine martens.
Long-tailed vole populations can fluctuate widely over a period of time within a given locale. Populations densities are generally sparse, with around 5-16 voles per hectare, but this can increase to more than 40.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists the animal as least concern. Long-tailed voles are common and have a very widespread geographic distribution, with a number of protected areas within the range. They are also capable of adapting to changes in their environment as well.
- Bailey, Vernon (1900). Revision of American Voles of the Genus Microtus. U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.) (2008). "Microtus longicaudus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Merriam, C Hart (October 1888). "Description of a new species of meadow mouse from the Black Hills of Dakota". The American Naturalist 22 (262): 934–935. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Musser, G. G.; Carleton, M. D. (2005). "Superfamily Muroidea". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 1004. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Smolen, Michael J.; Keller, Barry L. (27 February 1987). "Microtus longicaudus". Mammalian Species (271): 1–7. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Subspecies coronarius formerly was (and by some recent authros still is) regarded as a distinct species; it was recognized as a subspecies or synonym of M. longicaudus by Jones et al. (1992), Baker et al. (2003), and Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005). Extensive karyotypic and molecular variation suggests the need for further taxonomic investigation (Musser and Carleton).