Western red-backed vole

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Western red-backed vole
A small reddish-brown rodent standing on damp earth among some river rocks and gravel
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Arvicolinae
Genus: Myodes
M. californicus
Binomial name
Myodes californicus
(Merriam, 1890)
See text
Distribution of the Western red-backed vole
  • Clethrionomys californicus
  • M. mazama (Merriam, 1897)
  • M. obscurus (Merriam, 1897) [2]

The western red-backed vole (Myodes californicus) is a species of vole in the family Cricetidae. It is found in California and Oregon in the United States and lives mainly in coniferous forest. The body color is chestnut brown, or brown mixed with a considerable quantity of black hair gradually lightening on the sides and grading into a buffy-gray belly, with an indistinct reddish stripe on the back and a bicolored tail about half as long as the head and body.


The western red-backed vole was initially described by C. Hart Merriam under its original scientific name Evotomys californicus.[3] The type specimen was obtained at near Eureka, California.[3] It was an adult male collected by Theodore Sherman Palmer on June 3, 1889.[4]


Animal identified as western red-backed vole, taken in Hillsboro, Oregon
Skull dimensions[3]
Minimum Maximum
Basal length 21.8 mm (0.86 in) 23.3 mm (0.92 in)
Nasal length 7.2 mm (0.28 in) 7.5 mm (0.30 in)
Zygomatic breadth 13.3 mm (0.52 in) 14.2 mm (0.56 in)
Mastoid breadth 11.5 mm (0.45 in) 12.4 mm (0.49 in)
Upper molar alveolus 4.5 mm (0.18 in) 5.3 mm (0.21 in)

The length of the western red-backed vole ranges from 121–165 mm (4.8–6.5 in) overall, with a tail between 34–56 mm (1.3–2.2 in), hindfoot 17–21 mm (0.67–0.83 in), and ear 10–14 mm (0.39–0.55 in).[3] The height ranges between 0.75–0.87 inches (18–21 mm).[citation needed]

The species is closely related to the southern red-backed vole (Myodes gapperi), which lives to the north and east of the range of this species, and is redder, with a more sharply bicolored tail.[citation needed] They are differentiated based on a reddish stripe on the dorsum of the western red-backed vole.[3] The western red-backed vole also has characteristic differences in the anatomy of the hard palate.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It is found in northern California and western Oregon in the United States. The northern limit is defined by the Columbia River, with the range extending south to around 100 km (62 mi) north of the San Francisco Bay.[3] The range extends from the summits of the Cascade Range in the east, to the Pacific Ocean.[1][3] They live mainly in coniferous forest. They live in the Transition and Canadian life zones, described by Vernon Orlando Bailey in The mammals and life zones of Oregon.[3]

Behavior and ecology[edit]

The western red-backed vole lives largely underground in an extensive system of burrows.[5] It feeds rimarily on fruiting bodies of hypogeous fungi.[5] These mycorrhizal fungi are the symbionts of the forest trees around it. Rhizopogon vinicolor is one such which is associated with the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga spp.). Fruiting of the fungus takes place in well decayed timber when the nutrients are becoming exhausted. Because the fruiting bodies are underground, the spores are not liberated into the air as in most fungal species. However, the spores are found in the vole's droppings and are deposited throughout its burrows, thus enabling the fungus to spread and form associations with uninfected trees. It has been found that in a clear-cut forest where all the dead wood and trimmings are removed, the mycorrhiza stops fruiting, the vole population dies out and newly planted trees fail to thrive. This is an example of a three way symbiosis. The vole gains food from the fungus and spreads its spores. The fungus gains photosynthetic products from the tree which benefits from the nutrients produced by the fungus.[6]

The western red-backed vole, as a denizen of old-growth forests, it plays an important role as prey to a number of species. For the northern spotted owl, western red-backed voles are one of the top five prey species.[5] The red tree vole, northern flying squirrel, and western red-backed vole constitute more than 75% of the spotted owls diet.[5]

The diet of the vole varies depending on its environment. At higher elevations, they are exposed to a broader differential of climactic conditions. They eat a more varied diet under such conditions, compared to what they eat under more moderate conditions at lower elevations.[3]

No fossil remains have been identified.[3]

The species breeds between February and November on the slopes of the Cascade Range in north Oregon, as well as all year to the west of the Cascade Range, with 2–7 young per litter and a gestation period of around 18 days.[3]

Human Interaction[edit]

Conservation status[edit]

According to the IUCN, the species conservation status is of "least concern." The rationale is that no major threats are identified to this common animal with a widely distributed geographic range.[1]


In areas where vole populations live in close proximity to industrial areas, voles are used as a biological indicator to monitor environmental contamination, especially persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs which build up in the vole's fatty tissues.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.) (2008). "Myodes californicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2008. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 30 June 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ Don E. Wilson; DeeAnn M. Reeder (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. JHU Press. pp. 1022–. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Alexander, Lois F.; Verts, B. J. (10 December 1992). "Clethrionomys californicus" (PDF). Mammalian Species. 406: 1–6. doi:10.2307/3504252. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  4. ^ Hinton, Martin Alister Campbell (1926). Monograph of the voles and lemmings (Microtinae) living and extinct : . Department of Zoology. [Mammals] : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive. British Museum (Natural History) London. pp. 275–276. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d United States. Dept. of the Interior (1991). Recovery plan for the northern spotted owl - draft. U.S. Dept. of the Interior. pp. 366–368.
  6. ^ Schultz, Stewart T; Kellerman, Kathy; Megahan, John (1998). The Northwest coast : a natural history. Portland, OR: Timber Press. pp. 275–276. ISBN 0881924180.