Grey red-backed vole

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Grey red-backed vole
Myodes rufocanus.jpeg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Arvicolinae
Genus: Myodes
Species: M. rufocanus
Binomial name
Myodes rufocanus
(Sundevall, 1846)
Myodes rufocanus range map.png
Range of Myodes rufocanus
  • Clethrionomys rufocanus
  • Myodes sikotanensis

The grey red-backed vole or the grey-sided vole (Myodes rufocanus) is a species of vole. An adult grey red-backed vole weighs 20-50 grams. This species ranges across northern Eurasia, including northern China, the northern Korean Peninsula, and the islands of Sakhalin and Hokkaidō. It is larger and longer-legged than the northern red-backed vole (Myodes rutilus), which covers a similar range and it is also sympatric with the Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus).


The grey red-backed vole has a reddish-coloured back and grey sides. It has a head and body length of 4.5 to 5.25 in (114 to 133 mm) and a tail length of 1 to 1.75 in (25 to 44 mm). It can be distinguished from the bank vole by its larger size and distinctive reddish back and from the northern red-backed vole by its larger size, longer legs and relatively longer tail.[3] Unlike some other species of vole in the genus Myodes, the molar teeth of adults are rooted in the jaws.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The grey red-backed vole is native to northern Europe and Asia. Its range extends from Norway, Sweden and Finland eastwards through northern Russia to the Kamchatka Peninsula. It includes the Ural Mountains, the Altai Mountains, northern Korea, Sakhalin Island, Japan, northern Mongolia and China. Its altitude range extends from sea level to 1,170 m (3,839 ft) in Scandinavia and to 2,700 m (8,858 ft) in the Khangai Mountains in Mongolia. Its typical habitat is dense undergrowth or rocky areas in coniferous or birch forests, often near rivers, but it is also found in clear cut areas of forests, rough grassland, subarctic shrubby heathland and dry peat bogs.[1]


The grey red-backed vole feeds on grasses and small herbs, the leaves and shoots of sub-shrubs and berries.[1] It prefers the bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) to the northern crowberry (Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum) which contains unpalatable phenolic substances.[5]

In tundra regions, this vole exhibits outbreaks when its numbers increase substantially. These occur in a four to five-year population cycle[1] the reasons for which are not fully understood but which may reflect changes in the abundance of certain specialised predators.[6] Lemmings have similar but more violent population explosions. These happen in the same years as vole outbreaks, but occur less frequently. This is partly because lemmings continue to breed during the winter months while populations of grey red-backed voles decline during the winter.[7]


The grey red-backed vole is listed by the IUCN as being of "Least Concern". This is because it is a common species with a very wide range and faces no particular threats. Populations vary cyclically but may be declining somewhat in Fennoscandia, possibly due to changes in forestry practice.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sheftel, B.; Henttonen, H. (2008). "Myodes rufocanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2014-05-17.
  2. ^ "SPECIES Myodes rufocanus (Gray red-backed vole) (Clethrionomys rufocanus)". UniProt Taxonomy. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  3. ^ Konig, Claus (1973). Mammals. Collins & Co. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-00-212080-7.
  4. ^ Carleton, Michael D.; Musser, Guy G. (2005). "Myodes rufocanus". Mammal Species of the World. Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  5. ^ Dahlgren, Jonas; Oksanen, Lauri; Olofsson, Johan; Oksanen, Tarja (2009). "Plant defences at no cost? The recovery of tundra scrubland following heavy grazing by grey-sided voles, Myodes rufocanus". Evolutionary Ecology Research. 11: 1205–1216. ISSN 1522-0613.
  6. ^ Hudson, Peter J.; Bjørnstad, Ottar N. (2003). "Vole Stranglers and Lemming Cycles". Science. 302 (5646): 797–798. doi:10.1126/science.1092366. PMID 14593159.
  7. ^ Ims, Rolf A.; Yoccoz, Nigel G.; Killengreen, Siw T. (2010). "Determinants of lemming outbreaks". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (5): 1970–1974. doi:10.1073/pnas.1012714108. PMC 3033251.