‘… A brown little face, with whiskers. A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had first attracted his notice. Small neat ears and thick silky hair. It was the Water Rat!’
Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows
Britain's largest vole
Water voles are Britain’s largest voles, with fully grown adults reaching lengths of 20cm (plus a 12cm tail) and weighing up to 350g. They are charismatic little creatures with a round face, a blunt nose, a short furry tail and glossy dark brown or black fur. Water voles were popularised by the well-known character Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind in the Willows’, who, despite his misleading name, is not a rat but a water vole.
In spite of their name, water voles are not particularly well-adapted to aquatic life. They have evolved to live alongside water to aid their escape from predators. Their characteristic ‘plop’ is the sound of them diving into the water to escape any would be predator and to access the underwater entrance to their burrow. But they are clumsy swimmers without the rudder-like tail or webbed feet evolved by other water-loving creatures. Away from water – and where safe from predation, water voles can live completely fossorial (burrowing) lifestyles and in fact they do in a well-known location in Glasgow!