Marginally In-Voled

Back in 2011, Mrs. WC live-trapped two white Red-backed Voles in our front yard. Red-backed Voles are ordinarily brown and red.

Red-backed Vole Poking Out of Tunnel

Red-backed Vole Poking Out of Tunnel

But these little guys, when we glimpsed them, were pure white.

Leucistic Red-backed Vole?

Leucistic Red-backed Vole?

We turned the little rodents over to a mammalogist. Even in the hand, he couldn’t tell if they were leucystic or albino. A leucystic animal is whiter than normal, either in patches or coverall. An albino animal has no pigment at all.

Vole in the Hand

Vole in the Hand

Eventually, it was determined they were albinos, less interesting than leucystic voles might have been. But one day the mammalogist noticed that one of the little captives was climbing on the roof of his cage. That was interesting, because no one had thought that voles could climb. They certainly don’t look like they are built for it.

One thing led to another, and now there’s a published paper one the climbing abilities of Red-backed Voles. Demot Cole has a nice report on Dr. Link Olson and his undergraduate student, Jon Nations. They were able to document that voles can indeed climb things like trees and, even more surprising, descend slowly.

WC’s and Mrs. WC’s tiny neighbors led to a serendipitous discovery of a nearly unknown ability in Alaska’s most common mammal. But for the discovery of these little white guys in our yard, maybe none of this would have happened. How cool is that?



3 thoughts on “Marginally In-Voled

  1. They’d be awful cute if they didn’t eat my carrots, pea seeds, and parsley and hosta roots. Now I know how they got over the low edge of the hardware cloth trough I planted the edamame seeds in. Between the voles and deer that decimated a large annual border, it’s nature 2, me 0.

  2. I have a White German Shepherd and could tell this little guy was albino. I’ve had albino parakeets as well. As I understand it the white is a masking gene. Now my WGS is pure white so the white is masking black, she would be pure black. My other WGS who passed away had a cream/champagne colored streak down her back, tail and tufts of ears. She would of been black with tan markings. She had pink pigment and a “snow nose” (Pink) My dog now has blk pigment and a slight snow nose. The genetics are fascinating. A Blk & Tan GSD can have a white litter if she has the “White factor” or the male does. And the Whites can have B&T or pure black pups. I’ve seen white ravens (not albino) and then there is the “spirit bear” of Canada a black bear with the white masking.The White buffalo Calf!
    Its a very interesting subject. So where are the ablino voles now? They are adorable but I doubt they would survive long in the wild 😦

  3. The albino voles led long, happy lives at home with the mammalogist. But remember they only live 2-2.5 years. They now reside – or at least their skins do – in drawer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North.


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