If you’ve never seen a muskrat before, you’re in for a treat. These strange but adorable creatures can be found near water sources around North America. They are also an introduced species in Europe and Asia, where many of them are hunted for their fur.
Several Native American tribes thought muskrats were special animals. They used the size of the muskrat’s lodge to predict how long will be the upcoming winter and how much snowfall can be expected.
Interesting Facts about Muskrats
Muskrats are Muridae rodents that live in semi-aquatic environments. They live in wetland settings like marshes, ponds, and streams and are indigenous to North America. Muskrats were named after the musky odor that they use to mark their territory.
Because of their outstanding swimming abilities, muskrats frequently swim with their tails raised above the surface. Their tails are long, thin, and covered in scales instead of hair Muskrats use their tails as a means of propulsion when swimming.
These critters are skilled diggers and construct sophisticated tunnel systems close to water sources. In these burrows, muskrats live in family groups consisting of male, female, and their offspring.
Muskrats are kept warm in chilly water by their thick, brown fur. Their bodies are long, and their webbed feet are on short legs. Typically, muskrats weigh two to four pounds. Although men and females have similar appearances, males are typically bigger.
Typically, muskrats mate in the spring. There will be between four and six babies in the female’s litter. Muskrats are born hairless and blind. They mature swiftly and wean themselves after roughly two months. Muskrats mature sexually at around a year of age.
A muskrat can live for three to four years on average, but in captivity, some have been known to survive up to eight years.
What Do Muskrats Eat?
Muskrats are omnivores that will eat basically anything they can. Still, their diet is optimally 95% of plant origin, with only 5% of their food being of meat origin. When there are no plants available, muskrats will become highly carnivorous.
In The Wild
As a result of the closeness of their native habitat to the water, muskrats consume aquatic vegetation such as water lilies, cattails, wild rice, and rushes as their primary food source. They are omnivores, therefore in addition to eating land animals, they will also consume water species, such as frogs, fish, snails, slugs, and worms.
Muskrats also like feeding on a wide variety of crops whenever it is possible. They consume food items such as carrots, lettuce, leafy greens, beets, berries, apples, grapes, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Muskrats have a voracious appetite for cereals, seeds, nuts, and agricultural products such as corn, sugarcane, oats, and rice. In addition to that, they consume things like sunflower seeds and peas.
They will occasionally consume the remains of other animals, and in more dire circumstances, they will even resort to cannibalism, eating their own young or the young of other muskrats.
After nursing on their mother’s milk for the first month or two of their existence, young muskrats transition to the diet of adult muskrats, which consists of a variety of different foods.
In The Captivity
Muskrats kept in captivity do not require any kind of specialized diet due to the fact that they are able to eat almost any food. They are willing to consume any animal, plant, vegetable, or fruit that is presented to them. In addition to this, they are able to consume bird seeds, and it has been said that muskrats enjoy eating peanut butter!
How Often And How Much Do Muskrats Eat
Muskrats eat one-third of their weight every day. Usually, they spend their whole day eating or looking for food. They eat several times a day, or as often as the situation allows.
Muskrats generally eat every couple of hours and consume around one pound of food per day. In the winter months, their eating habits change slightly as they enter into a state of torpor.
Torpor is a period of inactivity where an animal’s metabolic rate slows down significantly in order to conserve energy. During this time, muskrats will only eat every few days.
Muskrats prefer to eat their food on so-called feeding platforms – usually parts of their lodges. This keeps them safe from their predators or other muskrats that might try to steal their food.
Beavers VS Muskrats
The biggest difference between beavers and muskrats is their size. Beavers are larger than muskrats by several times.
Both species are semi-aquatic animals, but beavers prefer to live near the freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers, while muskrats live in swampy areas, wetlands, canals, and ditches. Beavers build dams and their homes across the bodies of water, and muskrats live in the burrows near the body of water.
While the tails of both species are covered with scales, the beaver’s tail is flat and wide, while the muskrat’s tail is thin and long like with other rodents.
When beavers swim, their heads are the only part of them that’s visible, while a muskrat’s whole body is visible while it swims. Beavers are herbivores, while muskrats are omnivores.
What Are The Predators Of Muskrats?
The main predators of muskrats are otters and minks. When they are in the water, muskrats are vulnerable to eagles and ospreys. Foxes, raccoons, and coyotes also prey on muskrats, along with owls, hawks, alligators, bobcats, and many others.
Humans have been hunting these semi-aquatic rodents for centuries, mainly because of their fur and meat. Sometimes, muskrats’ habitats become overpopulated, and their number needs to be controlled by setting traps and other methods.
Their population is stable and widespread, meaning that they are not in danger of extinction. When there are too many muskrats in one place, some muskrats (usually the young ones) get pushed to less safe areas, where they often become prey to some of their predators, which is a nature’s way to keep the muskrat’s population under control.
Are Muskrats Good To Have Around?
Sometimes, muskrats eat crops and cause other damage when digging their burrows, but they can also be useful. By feeding on aquatic plants, they clear the water pathways for other animals, such as ducks and other birds. Their burrows are sometimes used by other animals as resting places and nests.
Still, they are usually considered to be pests. Like many other rodents, they are carriers of various diseases, tularemia, leptospirosis, and even rabies.
Muskrats can sometimes attack domestic animals, and even humans and children. Although they are small in size, they can be unpredictable and dangerous, especially when they feel threatened and want to protect their home and family.
Muskrat fur is quite warm, and it is used for making winter clothes. People used to eat muskrat meat because it is rich in protein, and one of the healthiest meats.
How To Get Rid of Muskrats?
There are several methods to get rid of muskrats:
- You can use commercially-bought or homemade muskrat-deterrent smells to keep these rodents away. Spray these deterrents over their burrows, tunnels, or other places you are certain they visit.
- Cayenne Pepper spice is efficient in repelling the muskrats. Sprinkle it in the areas where you noticed muskrat’s activity, especially if you know where they feed.
- Fox urine is another efficient repellent because it reminds muskrats of their predators. Simply sprinkle fox urine over the areas where you think muskrats are digging holes.
- Setting traps is probably one of the most efficient ways to get rid of muskrats. Set the traps around their burrows and feeding places.
- Automatic sprinklers seem to be effective in deterring the muskrats, although they live in the water. Strategically placed sprinklers can keep muskrats far away from your property.
- Try removing their food supply as much as possible. Even though muskrats can eat pretty much anything, you can still make your property less appealing by making their food sources scarce.
- Block their entry points. When you see traces of burrows and muskrat dens on your property, you should spray them with the aforementioned muskrat deterrents.
- Consider calling professional muskrat exterminators. They will know what to do in order to get rid of these pesky creatures.
Muskrats are fascinating creatures with interesting feeding and living habits. However, overpopulation is a common problem among muskrats, and in some countries, they are considered to be pests.
Muskrat fur is highly prized because it is soft, warm, and practically waterproof. Would you wear a muskrat coat? Share your opinion in the comments!