Ellobius talpinus Pall. - Northern Mole Vole


Mus talpinus Pall., Spalax murinus Pall., Georychus rufescens Eversmann.

Systematic position.

Class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Muridae, genus Ellobius. Karyotype, 2n = 52 (NF = 54, NFa = 50).

Biological group.

Rodent pests.

Morphology and biology.

A small mammal with weight up to 70 g, body length 130 mm, tail 17 mm. Coloring of the upper body is light, ocher-yellow to dark, black-brown. Light individuals have a good visible dark .cap.; sometimes melanistic individuals are seen. The abdomen is brown or having brown tint, weakly differing in color from the back. The molt occurs annually, being rather long with high intensity in August. The sexual dimorphism is weakly expressed; on the average, females are only slightly larger than males. These rodents are adapted for underground way of life, digging the ground through use of their incisors; their body is terete, the head is flat, the neck is short; the muscular system of body fore-part is strongly developed. The Northern Mole Vole is active in morning, day, and evening time. There is no true winter hibernation; animal activity decreases during drought. The female pregnancy lasts 3 weeks. Females give birth to 3-4 litters during the year with 2-4 young voles in each one. Young individuals are able to reproduce at the age of 1.5 month.


The Northern Mole Vole area stretches from Ukraine to Northern Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Northern China. In the territory of the Former USSR, the species lives in the steppes of Southern Ukraine, in the south of the European part of Russia, in the Southern Urals, in Trans-Ural region, and in the South of Western Siberia; it inhabits almost all Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.


The species is confined to steppes and semideserts, but reaching forest-steppe, settling in flood-free meadows, fallow lands, forest edges, in places with soft ground; the animals are sometimes numerous in agricultural lands, especially along forest belts. In the northern area and in conditions of rugged terrain, their distribution is mosaic as a consequence of thin snow blanket and deep-frozen ground in winter. The Northern Mole Vole does not inhabit continuous sands, thus being met in Turkmenistan in takyrs mainly. In mountains, the species is found at altitudes about 4,000 m above sea level. Rich summer precipitation and large forests limit the Northern Mole Vole distribution in the western and northern parts of its area. Severe winters are disastrous for this species of rodents. The highest number is reached in dry steppe and semidesert landscapes, in places where basic food is abundant; i.e., bulbs, tubers, and juicy rhizomes of plants. The Northern Mole Vole basically has a settled way of life; short-distance migrations occur at plowing of territories, strong droughts, and flooding lowlands during storm rains and spring snow thawing, and also at heavy irrigation of fields. It is a typical consumer of roots, feeding while making tunnels in the top layers of ground; in summer and autumn storing small stocks of food weighing 2 kg. Burrows represent a complex system of tunnels of 4-8 cm in diameter with nest and fodder chambers; their structure becomes more complicated and their depth increases by autumn. The family life is characteristic of the Northern Mole Vole; family groups consist of, as a rule, one pair of adult individuals and young animals of one or (less often) two litters. The size of individual family plots varies from 10-20 to 100 or more sq. m. Phases of population dynamics are characteristic of this species. Its population decreases 10-15 times during depressions compared with peaks of density dynamics. Limiting factors are infectious diseases causing epizootics, winter ice-crusted ground, severe winters with deep-frozen ground, spring flooding of burrows by snow water. Many species of parasites (Ixodes ticks and Gamasid mites, fleas and louses, helminthes) are found on and in these rodents. They have many enemies among predatory mammals and birds; but being underground inhabitants, the mole voles are accessible in their refuges to weasels and serpents only if an open entrance exists in the system of holes and chambers. Continuous plowing and irrigation of lands lead to decrease of inhabited areas.

Economic significance.

The Northern Mole Vole damages potato, beet, vegetable crops, melons and gourds, crops of alfalfa, cotton, and also saplings of fruiters and decorative trees, eating their roots and bark. These rodents influence significantly on mechanical and chemical structure of ground; they break walls of irrigation canals, earthen vegetable storehouses, etc.; benefits are enrichment and aeration of ground organic matters. Plant protection measures are difficult owing to mainly underground life of these rodents. Toxic baits of crushed vegetables and also clover and alfalfa are used, being laid in the opened tunnels. Gas method is the most effective. These rodents are also caught by modified mole-traps; bacteriological preparations are applied. Flooding irrigation is a cheap and most effective way of killing them on firm ground. Now special protective actions are not realized on large areas, as this species is not mass to put essential losses on large agricultural territories anywhere within the limits of its distribution area.

Reference citations:

Anon., ed. 2005. Ellobius (Ellobius) talpinus. Wilson & Reeder.s Mammal Species of the World. Third Edition. Bucknell Univesity. .
Evdokimov N.G.. 2003. Number fluctuations and population structure of the Northern mole vole (the primary analysis). Ecology (3): 225-234 (in Russian).
Gromov I.M., Erbaeva M.A. 1995. Mammals of Russia and adjacent territories. Lagomorphs and Rodents. St. Petersburg: ZIN RAN, 552 p. (in Russian).
Nurgel.dyev O.N. 1960. Materials on fauna and ecology of mammals of the first-turn Kara-Kum canal track and their practical significance. Ashkhabad: Izdatel.stvo Akademii nauk Turkmenskoi SSR, 287 p. (in Russian).
Pavlinov I.Ya., Kruskop S.V., Varshavskii A.A. & Borisenko A.V. 2002. Land animals of Russia. In: E.A.Dunaev & K.G.Mikhailov, eds. Manual-Identification book. Moscow: KMK, 298 p. (in Russian).
Pavlinov, I.Ya., Rossolimo, O.L. 1987. Taxonomy of the USSR mammals. In: Sokolov V.E., ed. Moscow: Moscow University, 284 p. (in Russian).
Rakov N.V. 1955. Data on ecology of the Northern mole vole in the Southeastern Kazakhstan and ways of its control. In: Belyaev A.M., ed. Proceedings of Plant Protection Republican Station. Vol. 2. Alma-Ata: Kazakhskoe gosudarstvennoe izdatel.stvo, p. 103-130 (in Russian).
Slastenina E.S. 1963. Ecology and harmful activity of the Northern mole vole (Ellobius talpinus Pall.) in fields and pastures of Kirghisia. In: Shaposhnikov F.D., ed. Uchenye zapiski. Kafedra zoologii. Vol. 24, part 2. Tumen.: Tumenskii gosudarstvennyi pedagogicheskii institut, 64 p. (in Russian).
Sludskii A.A., ed. 1978. Mammals of Kazakhstan. Rodents (gerbils, voles, the Siberian zokor). Vol. 1, part 3. Alma-Ata: Nauka, 492 p. (in Russian).
Zubko Ya.P, Ostryakov S. I. 1961. About reproduction of the Northern mole vole (Ellobius talpinus) in the South of Ukraine. Zoologicheskii zhournal 40(10): 1577-1579 (in Russian).

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Photo © Cherenkov S. 2007.

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