Welcome to Portugal’s newest mammal: the snow vole

Known elsewhere in Europe but unexpectedly clocked for the first time in Portugal only a year ago, the snow vole is now the country’s newest species of endemic mammal.

Known as the ‘rato-das-neves’, the little creature has been found in the natural park of Montesinho in Bragança.

He is characterised by long white whiskers, very developed hind legs and a long tail.

With the Latin name of Chionomys nivalis, the little creature is found only in mountain regions but is the very opposite of a pest, explain micro-mammal specialists.

In fact, tiny voles like these are “very important” when it comes to the dissemination of seeds.

In Spain, snow voles are on the list of mammals already “almost under threat”, therefore the discovery of this unsung little cousin in Portugal is very significant.

He owes his current projection to fame to wildlife photographer Gonçalo Rosa, who had left a camera primed underneath a boulder in the park.

Going through the images later on, Rosa saw a rodent that he realised he did not recognise. “I couldn’t tell what it was. It was a very peculiar animal”, he told Wilder animal conservation website.

The rest is scientific history. Experts came with special equipment and traps and agreed yes, this was a little snow vole enclave they had previously missed.

Now the creatures are ‘famous’, studies are being formulated, ‘snow vole censuses’ are being drawn up, and the pressure is on to try and ensure snow voles stick around in the western most point of Europe.

As Wilder concludes, it is very possible more will be found in other mountainous regions, like Gêres and Estrela.

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Photo: Gonçalo Rosa