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Clethrionomys gapperi - Southern Red-backed Vole

Species Description:

Head and body length:  3 3/4 - 4 2/3in.  (70 – 118mm.)

Tail length:  1 – 2 1/3in.  (25 – 60mm.)

Weight:  1/2 – 1 1/2oz.  (14 – 42g.)

Physical characteristics:

Clethrionomys gapperi is a relatively small mouse. Its most distinguishing characteristic is probably the rusty-red colored band running from its eyes to the start of its bicolored tail (brown above and whitish below).  The sides are grayish in color and the belly varies from white to silver (Linzey, D.; Brecht, C.  11/4/03., Ballenger, L. 11/3/03., Red-backed Vole – Clethrionomys gapperi).


The Southern Red-backed Vole occurs throughout much of the southern 2/3 of Canada and the northern portion of the U.S.  Their range extends further south only through the Rocky Mountains down to New Mexico and through the Appalachian Mountains down into Tennessee.  In Wisconsin, Clethrionomys gapperi has been found throughout most of the southern half of the state.  It has been found as far north as the Wausau area and the Green Bay area  (Arthur, A. 1983., Jones, J. and Birney, E. 1988., Ballenger, L. 11/3/03).


Clethrionomys gapperi has a breeding period ranging from early spring into late fall, normally producing 2-3 litters each year.  Each litter averaging 3-8 offspring.  The newborns are naked and pink with their eyes and ears remaining shut for 10-15 days.  Gestation normally lasts for 17-19 days.  Newborns will reach sexual maturity within 2-3 months.  Life expectancy for the Southern Red-backed Vole is approximately 20 months (Linzey, D., Brecht, C. 11/4/03., Ballenger, L. 11/3/03., Red-backed Vole, 11/4/04).

Ecology and Behavior:

Habitat:  Southern Red-backed Voles prefer cool, damp, wooded areas among rocks, mossy logs, hillsides, and streams.  They are known to inhabit deciduous or mixed forests, but prefer coniferous forests.  Mobility persists of traveling above and below ground in natural runways.  Clethrionomys gapperi builds its nest hidden in holes, above ground in trees, and under rocks, logs, and brush (Linzey, D., Brecht, C. 11/4/03., Ballenger, L.  11/3/03., Arthur, A.  1983).

Diet:  The diet of the Southern Red-Backed Vole consists of green vegetation, berries, nuts, seeds, fungus, and insects.  This depends on what is available at the time.  They are said to eat mainly green vegetation in the spring; green vegetation, fruits, and berries in the summer; and mostly nuts and seeds in the fall.  In some places, such as Northern Ontario, their diet can be made up of mostly fungus throughout the year (Martel, M.  1981., Orrock, J., Pagels, J.  2002., Linzey, D., Brecht, C.  11/4/03., Ballenger, L.  11/3/03., Red-backed Vole – Clethrionomys gapperi. 11/4/03).

Behavior:  Southern Red-backed Voles are active day and night; however, more often at night.  There has been evidence of seasonal-phase shifts from a mostly diurnal rhythm in the winter to a nocturnal and crepuscular rhythm in the summer (Halle, S., Stenseth, N.  2000).  The home range of these voles is approximately 1/4 acre.  Populations have been reported up to 10 per acre, but usually consist of fewer (Linzey, D., Brecht, C.  11/4/03., Ballenger, L.  11/3/03). 

Literature Cited:

Arthur, A.  1983.  Habitat suitability index models: Southern red-backed vole.  U.S. Department of the Interior: Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ballenger, L.  Clethrionomys gapperi – Southern Red-backed Vole.  <$narrative.html>.  Assessed on 11/3/03.

Halle, S. and N.C. Stenseth.  2000.  Activity Patterns in Small Mammals: An Ecological Approach.  P. 204.

Jones, J.K, and E.C. Birney.  1988.  Handbook of Mammals of the North-Central States.

Linzey, D. and C. Brecht.  Clethrionomys gapperi – Southern Red-backed Vole.  <>.  Assessed on 11/4/03.

Martell, M.  1981.  Food Habits in Southern Red-backed Voles (Clethrionomys gapperi) in Northern Ontario.  Canadian Field Naturalist 95(3): 325-328.

Orrock, J., and J. Pagels.  2002.  Fungus Consumption by the Southern Red-backed Vole (Clethrionomys gapperi) in the Southern Appalachians.  American Midland Naturalist 147: 413-418.

Red-backed Vole – Clethrionomys gapperi.  <>.  Assessed on 11/4/03.

Reference written by Aaron Kleiser, Biol 378: Edited by Chris Yahnke. Page last updated 4-19-04.

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