Blanfordimys afghanus (Thomas) - Afghan Vole

Systematic position.

Class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Muridae, genus Blanfordimys.


Microtus (B.) afghanus Thomas.

Biological group.

Rodent pests.

Morphology and biology.

It is not a large vole. The length of body is 110 mm; the tail is 30 mm; the foot is 16-17 mm. The back fur of voles from different parts of the distribution area varies from pale-yellow-ochre to grayish-pale-yellow in color. The tail is monochromatic or poorly two-colored. More often 6 sole knobs, rarely 5 occur. Diploid set of chromosomes (2n=58) is characteristic if this species. All autosomes are acrocentrics, the X-chromosome is a large submetacentric, and the Y-chromosome is an acrocentric (Golenishchev, 2000-2003). Reproduction occurs in autumn-winter-spring period with a pause during summer drought. Number of young voles in a brood varies substantially, from 1-2 to 8-10 after different authors.


The distribution area covers the South of Turkmenistan (Kopetdag, Bol.shoi Balkhan, Malyi Balkhan , Badkhyz, Karabil.), goes to the right bank of Kara-Kum canal; includes the South of Uzbekistan; Tajikistan and the northwestern part of Afghanistan. The Afghan Vole is known also from northeastern Iran.


The Afghan Vole inhabits both cultivated and natural biotopes, being found in flat and montane steppes and also in semi-deserts. It is marked as a typical resident of upland cereal and motley-grass steppes. The species in the most part of its distribution area lives at heights 500-600 m above sea level, sometimes found at heights up to 1500-1700 m above sea level. The more typical dwelling places of the species in Turkmenistan are long-fallow and dry lands, steppes and brushwoods. The main fodder is green parts of plants. A seasonal variability of fodder composition is characteristic of this species; they use green parts of plants during spring, autumn, and winter, but feed on seeds, fruits, flowers, suckers and leaves and underground parts of plants in dry summer-autumn period. Voles lay in supplies of up to 4.5 kg for winter use. The Afghan vole doesn.t live in tugai-floodlands and haymakings. It is completely absent in places of cattle overgrazing, avoiding also rubbly soils and rockslides. In natural biotopes, it is found among wild dog-rose and in pistachio tree woodlands. It prefers loess slopes overgrown with cereals and sedges. Sharp rise and fall of density by years are characteristic of this species. It is a colonial species, for which well-defined focus formation of settlements takes place. Human.s impact has an essential influence on its populations: pest number decreases, or may completely vanish under overgrazing or plowing.

Economic significance.

Afghan Voles decrease productivity of pastures as a result of their activity, eating plants and laying hay in a stock of fodder. This species inhabits alfalfa and flax crops, watermelon plantations on agricultural lands, vegetable gardens and homestead lands. It is found in flower gardens, waysides, and belts near crops. Outbreaks are recorded in the South Turkmenistan; local rise of density are observed in Tajikistan, with outbreaks happening more frequently on territories bordering Afghanistan. In the period of outbreak in the south part of Karabil. in 1955, 200,000 hectares of the best pastures became useless for pasturing of sheep. In 1949-79, local rise of density and outbreaks were observed with 3-6 year intervals in different places of the southwestern part of Tajikistan. Voles migrate to slopes and steppe plots, obliterating pasture vegetation and dry crops during outbreaks. Eating nuts of pistachio, voles detain natural renewal of pistachio bushes. The Afghan Vole strongly harms pastures and hayfields by its digging activity, promoting erosion of soils. A formation of complex burrows, frequently called colonies, is typical of this rodent species. During outbreaks, the area of one such formation can vary from 64 to 180 sq. m., number of entrance holes from 20 to 145, and number of voles from 4 to 10 individuals. Last decades, with expansion of areas for irrigation agriculture and cattle overgrazing, the tendency for outbreaks is not so expressed as that in middle of 20th century. Control measures are the same as those used to combat other small rodents. During the 1956 outbreak, poisoned grain baits were successfully applied from a plane both in September and spring.

Reference citations:

Davydov, G.S. 1957. Data about the Afghan vole distribution (Microtus (Blanfordimys) afghanus Thomas) in Tajikistan. Reports of Tajik SSR Academy Science (Stalinabad). 21: 49-50 (in Russian).
Davydov, G.S. 1958. To distribution and ecology of some rodents in Southwest Tajikistan foothills. Proceeding of Tajik SSR Academy Sciences, Zoology and Parasitology Institute, 89: 165-193 (in Russian).
Davydov, G.S. 1988. Mammalians (rodents). In: Abdusalyamov, I.A., ed., Fauna of Tajik SSR. V. 20, part 3. Dushanbe: Donish, 314 p. (in Russian).
Davydov, G.S. 1992. Structure change of Tajikistan rodent.s population as a result of anthropogenic landscape transformation. Proc. of the Tajikistan Republic Academy Science. Department of Biological Sciences, 5: 10-15 (in Russian).
Golenishchev, F.N. & Sablina, O.V. 1991. To taxanomy of the Afghan vole Microtus (Blanfordimys) afghanus. Zoologicheskii zhurnal, 70 (1): 98-110 (in Russian).
Golenishchev, F.N. 2000-2003. The Afghan vole Microtus (Blanfordimys) afghanus (Thomas, 1912). Publication on website "Centre of protection wild nature: Rodents of former USSR", URL (in Russian).
Gromov, I.M. & Erbaeva, M.A. 1995. The Mammals of Russia and adjacent territories. Lagomorphs and Rodents. St. Petersburg: ZIN RAN, 552 p. (in Russian).
Gromov, I.M. & Polyakov, I.Ya. 1977. Voles (Microtinae). In: Strelkov, A.A., ed. Fauna of the USSR. Mammals. V.3, Issue 8. Leningrad: Nauka, 504 p. (in Russian).
Nurgeldyev, O.N. 1956. Outbreak of the Afghan vole (Microtus (Blanfordimys), 1912) in South-East of Turkmenistan. In: Bogdanova, O.P., ed. Proc. of Turkmenian SSR Academy Science. v. 4. Ashkhabad: Academy Science of Turkmenian SSR, 45-54 (in Russian).
Nurgeldyev, O.N. 1969. Mammalian ecology of flat Turkmenistan. Panfilov, D.A., ed. Ashkhabad: Ilym. 259 p. (in Russian).
Nurgeldyev, O.N. 1971. Rodents - pasture plant pests of flat Turkmenistan. In: Gladkov, N.A. et al., ed. Animal World of Turkmenistan. Terrestrial vertebrates. Ashkhabad: Ilym, p. 158-181 (in Russian).
Pavlinov, I.Ya. & Rossolimo, O.L. 1987. Taxonomy of the USSR mammals. Moscow: Moscow University, 284 p. (in Russian).
Polyakov, I.Ya. 1968. The harmful rodents and their control. Leningrad: Kolos, 256 p. (in Russian).
Popov, V.A., Voitsekhovskii, D.P., Nikitin, V.P. & Zaitseva, V.I. 1968. Ecology of the Afghan vole in Turkmenistan. In: Anon., ed. Rodents and their ectoparasits (Saratov): 5-14 (in Russian).
Vinogradov, B.S. & Ivanov, A.I. 1945. The rodents of Taikistan. Stalinabad: 81 p. (in Russian).
Voitsekhovskii, D.P., Nikitin, V.P., Popov, A.V., & Zaitseva, V.I. 1961. The peculiarities of Afghan vole ecology. In: Anon., ed. First theriological conference. Transactions, v.2. Moscow: Moscow University, p. 17-18 (in Russian).

© Saulich M.I.

Picture is taken from: "Keys to Mammals of the USSR", N.A. Bobrinskii (1965).

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