Critter Corner - Muskrat
(Ondatra zibethicus)

DID YOU KNOW:

The muskrat is a rabbit-sized rodent that lives around water.  Strong hind legs and webbing on the feet make it a powerful swimmer.  Its hairless tail, which is flattened on each side, is a perfect rudder for steering.  They can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes.

EATING HABITS:

Muskrats eat aquatic plants such as cattails, rushes and algae that might otherwise overrun ponds.  Corn, clover and alfalfa, along with frogs, crayfish and fresh-water clams are also on their dining menu.

THE YOUNG:

Mother muskrat may have two to five litters of young each year.  The five to six tiny babies are blind and nearly naked at birth.  By two weeks of age, the babies are swimming and diving and by four weeks are weaned from Mom's milk.  They then soon leave the nest and live nearby.

 

HABITAT (HOME):

Muskrats make their home in marshes, streams, lakes and ponds.  They either burrow into the muddy banks or build a mound home out of aquatic vegetation like cattails.  These mounds have interior nesting and sleeping chambers and usually an underwater entrance.  The mound provides a safe, dry place for Mom to raise her young.  The roof of the mound even provides a nesting platform for ducks and geese.  Muskrats are found throughout North America.

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

These strong swimmers are rarely far from water, where they can dive underwater to escape predators.  Like other rodents, they have sharp front teeth and strong jaw muscles.  They slap their tails to warn other muskrats of danger, like the beaver.  Their major predator is the mink, a weasel that is smaller than the muskrat.

 

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • Muskrats get their name from a strong-smelling liquid called musk that their bodies produce to mark their territories and to recognize each other.  This musk is used in may perfumes.

  • Muskrats are sometimes called marsh-hares or marsh-rabbits.

 To learn more about muskrats

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(Photo credits: Portrait of muskrat, Missouri Dept of Conservation; Muskrat babies, Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife; Muskrat hut from EPA; Muskrat swimming from Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife)