People often get in a muddle between water voles and rats! Although they are both similar in size there are a few differences to look out for.
What to look for
The easiest way to tell them apart is by the shape of their nose. Rats have very long and pointed faces, whereas the nose on a water vole is short and blunt. Rats also have prominent ears that stick out - a water vole's ears are smaller and much less obvious.
Water voles are round in appearance, often described as looking chubby, where as rats are much more slender.
A rat tail is the length of its body and is almost completely hairless. A water vole tail is much shorter, only half the length of its body, and is covered in hair.
What habitat do they prefer?
Both animals are very capable swimmers. Whereas rats can be found almost anywhere, water voles are specialists to their particular habitat. They require vast banks in which they make their burrows. Rats swim so they power quickly through the water where as water voles float like a cork.
Water voles are protected by law. It is an offence to disturb, damage or destroy anything they use as a shelter. If you suspect that you've seen a water vole then avoid disturbing them as far as possible.
Should I report my sighting?
If you're sure of your sighting then why not submit it to the Mammal Society as part of The National Mammal Atlas Project by clicking here.
This information is vital to contributing to the understanding of water vole populations across the UK!