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Water Voles Betray Vegetarian Community

Wednesday 5 May 2010

OK, OK, so that is perhaps a slightly over the top headline, but news has just reached us that the humble water vole may not be the one hundred percent vegetarian that we thought they were. Ratty from The Wind of the Willows has, it seems, been munching on a certain delicacy usually associated with our French friends over La Manche.

You have probably guessed it – the water voles of the UK have been making a meal out of frog’s legs. Being the tidy creatures they are they deposit the remains of their meals in neat little piles by the water’s edge. Over at the Kennet and Avon Canal in Berkshire ecologists for British Waterways have found the remains of frogs in these piles. Good grief, what next? Will they take up ice skating perhaps (then again, they already have according to the picture above).

However, there is a somewhat macabre side to this tale. It seems that it is only the legs of the frogs that have been removed and eaten – the rest of the carcass remains intact. It is almost as if some later day voley Hannibal Lecter type has insinuated his way in to the once completely herbivorous community. Quick, grab a thumb sized muzzle!  Do you hear the screaming of the tadpoles, Clarice?

To be fair, the farfetched thought of the voles going on a mad frog devouring rampage is a little over the top (but funny nonetheless) as they are timid little creatures. There is no weird Ratty serial killer – the water voles can probably simply not manage the rest of the frog and so go for the easiest meat, the legs. However, eco-heads are scratching as to the reason why the water voles in this area have suddenly abandoned their once blissfully meat free veggie existence.

The answer is babies. It is thought that the voles have taken to eaten frogs as they are short of protein in their diet. It is the breeding season at the moment and the clever chaps from British Waterways think that they are trying to supplement their diet with a little extra protein while preparing for the next generation.

Poor little guys – from once thriving population of eight million in the UK it is believed that there are only a few hundred thousand of the fascinating small mammals left. As such it is one of the fastest declining mammals in the UK. To blame for that we have (as usual) ourselves to thank. Oh and just in case you are thinking RAT! then calm down dear (it's only a commervole).  Yes, the water vole is a rodent but it belongs to a different family altogether from Rattus rattus.

In 1929 the mink was introduced from North America by people who sought to farm the animals for their fur, nasty people that they were. Some escaped, bred and spread and the real victim turned out to be not the displaced mink but poor old Ratty. Who then can blame the little guys for trying out a little exotic cuisine?

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