Although it tends to favour early morning and late afternoon (3), the meadow vole is active both day and night throughout the year (1) (3) (5) (6). In warmer conditions, this species is generally more active at night (3) (6), whereas in areas of high grass cover it is more active in the daytime (3).
The meadow vole spends much time above ground, and although it does not climb, it is a capable swimmer (3). This species builds extensive runway systems and tunnels which may be above or just below the ground (1) (2) (5) (6). Piles of plant cuttings can be found scattered along the runways (5) where the voles have used their sharp teeth to cut down vegetation to keep the pathways clear (3). Communal toilet areas are located at irregular intervals along the runway systems (3).
Considered to be a highly herbivorous species (5), the meadow vole eats a wide variety of plant material, including the roots, leaves and stems of grasses and herbs (1) (3) (5) (6), with more than 90 percent of its diet being made up of vegetable matter (5). If the opportunity arises, the meadow vole will also eat seeds, grains and bulbs (6), as well as bark from trees and shrubs (3) (6). This species can eat more than its own body weight in food in just 24 hours (3).
Roots, tubers, leaves and other plant parts may be stored by the meadow vole as a cache for the winter months (3) (6), and in the spring this species has been known to fell dwarf willows to eat the fruiting bodies (3). Although the meadow vole has been recorded eating insects, this is a relatively rare occurrence (3) (6).
The meadow vole is a promiscuous species (3), and breeds throughout the year (1) (5), with pheromones in male urine stimulating the females to reproduce (3). Peak breeding activity occurs in spring and autumn (6), from March to November (3). The gestation period is about 20 to 21 days (1) (3) (5) (6), after which time the female meadow vole gives birth to a litter of about 4 or 5 young (1) (5), although the litter may contain as few as 1 (1) (3) and as many as 11 young (3). Litter sizes tend to be larger on average in the spring and summer, and a female meadow vole can produce 10 or more litters per year (1), with one captive female recorded to have raised 17 litters in a year (3).
Young are born and raised in a nest constructed on the surface of the ground or just beneath it (1) (2) (3) (5), or in the centre of a grass tussock in swampy areas (3). The nest itself is a globular structure constructed with dry, shredded grass and sedges (2) (3) (5) (6). The young mature very quickly and are weaned at about 12 to 14 days old (3) (5) (6), with young females being ready to breed at less than a month old (3) (5) (6). Female meadow voles are capable of breeding again almost straight away after giving birth (5).
In the wild, the meadow vole rarely survives longer than about a year, but in captivity individuals of this species have been known to live for up to five years (5).