Critter Corner - Muskrat
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.
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.
Mother muskrat may have two to five litters of young each year.
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.
Muskrats make their home in marshes, streams, lakes and ponds.
They either burrow into the muddy banks
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.
These strong swimmers are rarely far from water, where they
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.
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
To learn more about
(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)