Do Voles Play Dead? The Truth Behind This Behavior

  • MickAdmin
  • July 22, 2023

Voles are small rodents commonly found in meadows, grasslands, and forests. They are known for their ability to burrow and create intricate tunnel systems underground. However, there is a curious behavior that some voles exhibit when they feel threatened – they play dead.

Playing dead, or thanatosis, is a common defense mechanism many animals use. It involves feigning death to avoid being attacked by a predator.

While this behavior has been observed in many species, it is unknown whether voles can play dead.

Recent studies have shed some light on this topic, revealing that some voles are indeed capable of playing dead.

This behavior has been observed in meadows and prairie voles, two common species in North America.

The exact reasons why some voles play dead while others do not is still not fully understood, but researchers believe that it may be related to their individual personality traits and experiences.


Voles and Playing Dead

Why Voles Play Dead


Voles are small rodents often preyed upon by predators such as owls, foxes, and snakes. Voles have developed a unique defense mechanism to avoid being eaten – playing dead.

When a vole feels threatened, it will suddenly collapse and remain motionless, appearing to be dead. This behavior can confuse and deter predators, giving the vole a chance to escape.


How Voles Play Dead


When a vole decides to play dead, it will first stop moving and lie on its side or back with its eyes closed.

The vole’s body will then go limp, and its breathing and heart rate will slow. The vole may also release a foul-smelling odor that can further deter predators.

Despite appearing lifeless, voles that are playing dead are actually still conscious and aware of their surroundings.

They will remain in this state until they feel the threat has passed; at this point, they will quickly get up and run away.

Overall, playing dead is a fascinating and effective defense mechanism that voles have developed to protect themselves from predators.

While it may seem risky, voles have evolved to use it as a last resort when all other options have failed.


Impact on Predators


When voles play dead, they can significantly impact their predators. Some predators, such as weasels, rely on their prey being alive to eat them.

If a vole plays dead, the weasel may lose interest and move on to find another prey item. This can be a life-saving behavior for the vole.

Other predators, such as birds of prey, may not be as affected by a vole playing dead. These predators often have a keen sense of sight and can detect whether their prey is alive. However, even in these cases, playing dead may still provide some protection for the vole.

In addition to avoiding being eaten, playing dead may help voles avoid being attacked. Some predators, such as cats, may be less likely to attack a prey item that appears to be dead.

This may be due to the fact that a dead animal is less of a threat and may be less likely to fight back.

Overall, the impact of voles playing dead on predators can vary depending on the predator species and the situation. However, playing dead can be an effective survival strategy for voles in certain situations.


Comparison with Other Rodents

Voles Vs. Mice


Voles and mice are often confused with each other, but they are quite different. For starters, voles are larger than mice, with stockier bodies and shorter tails.# Mice have longer tails and more pointed snouts, while voles have rounder faces and shorter snouts. Additionally, voles have smaller eyes and ears than mice.

Regarding behavior, voles are more likely to burrow underground, while mice are more likely to nest in above-ground structures like buildings and trees. #Voles are also more herbivorous than mice, with a diet mainly consisting of grasses and other vegetation.

On the other hand, mice are more omnivorous and will eat a wider variety of foods, including insects and other small animals.


Voles Vs. Rats


Like voles and mice, voles and rats are often confused with each other. However, there are some critical differences between the two. For one thing, rats are much larger than voles, with longer bodies and tails. Rats also have larger ears and eyes than voles.

Regarding behavior, rats are more likely to be found in urban areas, while voles prefer rural or suburban environments. Rats are also more likely to be omnivorous than voles, with a diet that includes plant and animal matter. Voles, on the other hand, are primarily herbivorous.

While voles may share some similarities with other rodents, they have unique characteristics that set them apart. Understanding these differences can help researchers better understand the behavior and ecology of these fascinating animals.


Scientific Studies and Research


Scientific studies have been conducted to determine if voles play dead as a defense mechanism. Several studies have been conducted in the laboratory and field to understand the behavior of voles.

One study conducted in the laboratory used captive voles to observe their behavior when exposed to predators.

The study found that voles did not play dead when exposed to predators but instead tried to escape or hide. The researchers concluded that playing dead might not be an effective defense mechanism for voles.

Another study conducted in the field observed the behavior of voles when exposed to predators. The study found that voles played dead when exposed to predators, but only when they were vulnerable and could not escape.

The researchers concluded that playing dead might be an effective defense mechanism for voles in some situations.

A third study conducted in the laboratory used stuffed predators to observe the behavior of voles. The study found that voles played dead when exposed to stuffed predators, indicating that they might use this defense mechanism when they perceive a threat.

The studies suggest that voles might play dead as a defense mechanism in some situations. However, more research is needed to understand the circumstances under which voles play dead and how effective this defense mechanism is in the wild.



In conclusion, the evidence suggests that voles do not play dead as a defense mechanism. While some anecdotal reports exist of voles appearing to play dead, there is no scientific evidence to support this behavior.

Researchers have found that voles have a range of defense mechanisms, including hiding, fleeing, and fighting back against predators. However, playing dead is not one of these mechanisms.

It is important to note that while playing dead may be a common defense mechanism in some animals, it is not a universal behavior. Different species have evolved different strategies to survive in their environments, and playing dead may not be an effective strategy for voles.

Overall, while it is always possible that new evidence may emerge in the future, the current scientific consensus is that voles do not play dead. More research is needed to understand these fascinating rodents’ complex behaviors fully.

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