Dead Vole Mystery

by Carl Strang

Perhaps a minute after leaving the snake I described yesterday, I encountered a small dead mammal lying on the trail.

What makes this finding of a deceased meadow vole surprising is that Mayslake Forest Preserve has no shortage of predators who include these little guys on their menu. Typically all that would be left would be bones in a raptor pellet or fur in a scat. I saw no signs of damage on the vole. Two most likely scenarios come to mind. First is that a well fed neighbor’s cat killed the vole and left it, the needle-like toenails and canines producing no obvious trace of their work. I haven’t seen any cats or their signs around lately, but I’ve known cats that were very good at staying out of sight. The other possibility is that the vole was victim of a short-tailed shrew’s poisonous bite, but some circumstance separated the shrew from its prey. Though I have no solution to this mystery, it’s enjoyable nevertheless to find such things and think about them.



  1. October 21, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Hi Carl. I occasionally find dead voles on the trails at our property this time of year and often wonder what might have caused them to die. Is it also a possibility that it was just natural causes, or would you not expect to find a vole that died of natural causes out in the open? Could another possibility be cold overnight weather? Maybe it hasn’t been cold enough for that yet, though.

    • natureinquiries said,

      October 22, 2010 at 6:38 am

      Hi, Scott,
      It’s just that “natural causes” for a vole typically mean predation. This is a rich time of year, when food is abundant and the tunnels and nests are well insulated. Perhaps there is a disease they get seasonally that I have not heard of. Perhaps there are social stresses and even fighting that lead to injuries disproportionately in the fall. This is a case where there is so much literature on a species group that I just haven’t been able to keep up.

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