Male short-tailed field voles (Microtus agrestis) build better insulated nests than females

P Redman, C Selman, J R Speakman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Citations (Scopus)


Nest construction is an extremely widespread behaviour. III small endotherms the nest serves primarily to provide insulation, and thereby retard heat loss of the constructor, of its offspring. In arctic and temperate regions many small mammals build nests to protect themselves from low ambient temperatures. We measured the physical properties of nests built by short-tailed field voles Microtus agrestis that were kept in captivity under cold conditions. The most important factor influencing nest insulation was nest wall thickness; however, nests with thick walls also contained more nesting material. Insulative capacity of the nest did not reach an asymptote up to nests containing 20 g of material. Nest insulation was not correlated with resting metabolic rate, body mass or body composition of the vole that constructed the nest. However, nests built by males had greater insulation than those made by females; males also had significantly lower food intake rates when compared to females with nests. No significant difference was observed in either fat mass or whole animal thermal conductance between males and females. Thermal conductance did increase significantly with increasing body mass, although not with resting metabolic rate. Voles with nests for prolonged periods had lower food intakes than voles without nests. The absolute saving averaged 1.9 g and was independent of body mass. This was a 28 % saving on intake for a 22-g vole but only an 18% saving for a 40-g individual. When voles had nests for short periods they used the energy they saved to reduce food intake and increase body mass.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-587
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology. B, Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • body mass
  • body composition
  • resting metabolic rate
  • thermal conductance
  • endotherms


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