Muskrat

Ondatra zibethicus

Rollin

Muskrats are large rodents that always live near water. They have thick brown fur and a long, furless, scaly tail. They can grow up to two feet long (with tail). Their rear feet are webbed for swimming, and their eyes and ears are very small.

Muskrats live in marshes, or alongside ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams.

Tanya Dewey

Muskrats build a house, called a lodge, out of aquatic plants, especially cattails. It can be up to eight feet across and five feet high. A muskrat lodge looks a lot like a Beaver lodge.

Muskrats also burrow holes in stream or pond banks. At least one entrance hole will always be above the water line.

This animal also builds feeding platforms (places to eat) with the same types of materials as the lodge, only much smaller.

Denver Division of Animal Control

Tiffany Hilton-Cole

The Muskrat breeding season starts in late Winter and ends in September. A female muskrat may have up to five litters per year, with up to 10 young in each litter.

Baby Muskrats are born without fur. After about two weeks, they have their fur and begin swimming.

Muskrats live in large family groups within a territory. If it gets too crowded, the females will drive the youngsters away. Sometimes Muskrats will even eat their young.

Muskrats are active throughout the day, but they are especially active when it gets dark. They are excellent swimmers and can stay under water for 15 minutes. Their tails are used to steer, and they can swim forwards and backwards. They can even chew food underwater.

Muskrats eat a wide variety of vegetable and animal foods, including: cattails, sedges, rushes, water lilies, pondweeds, wild rice, pickerelweed, clover, willow, acorns, maple samaras, arrowhead, sweet flag, switchgrass, mussels, crayfish, frogs, snails, and fish.

Muskrats take their food out to their feeding platforms. They often leave a pile of shells called a "midden."

When a Muskrat builds a lodge, it helps a lot of animals besides itself. Lodges can also be the home of snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, and Canada Geese. Raccoons are also known to den in old Muskrat holes.

When Muskrats eat large numbers of cattails (called an "eat-out"), they open up areas of shallow water. This provides good hiding places and nest sites for water birds, and allows other water plants to grow.

Lloyd Glenn Engles, California Academy of Sciences

Muskrats have many predators, including: Raccoon, Red Fox, owls, hawks, American Bald Eagles, Common Snapping Turtle, Bullfrog, snakes, and Largemouth Bass; as well as cats, dogs, and people.

Muskrats leave scent posts, a small pile of leaves and grass blades mixed with body fluids, to mark their territory.

Mark Moran

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Muskrat Swimming and Feeding on Cattails
Video
Mark Moran
Muskrat Feeding
Video
Phil Heine
Muskrat Emerging from Water
Video
Phil Heine
Muskrat Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
EnchantedLearning.com
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

PREY/FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Common Cattail

Red Fox

Common Cattail

Canada Goose SP

Tussock Sedge

Raccoon

Yellow Pond Lily

Bullfrog SP

Marsh Bulrush

Great Horned Owl

Common Duckweed

Green Frog SP

Pickerelweed

Barred Owl

Arrow Arum

Common Snapping Turtle SP

Yellow Pond Lily

Red-tailed Hawk

Black Willow

Eastern Painted Turtle SP

Greater Bladderwort

Bald Eagle

Pickerelweed

Raccoon SP

Long-leaf Pondweed

Common Snapping Turtle

Marsh Bulrush

American Toad SP

Red Clover

Largemouth Bass

Tussock Sedge

Southern Leopard Frog SP

Black Willow

Bullfrog

Long-leaf Pondweed

Mallard SP

White Oak

Human

Common Reed

Wood Duck SP

Red Maple

Black Rat Snake

Lizard's Tail

Copperhead SP

Switchgrass

Greater Bladderwort

Black Rat Snake SP

Crayfish

Buttonbush

Great Blue Heron SP

Eastern Lamp Mussel

Climbing Bittersweet

Devil's Beggar-tick D

Bullfrog

Swamp Rose Mallow

Northern Water Snake SP

Stagnant Pond Snail

Bigtooth Aspen

Beaver SP

Bluegill

Wild Rice

Common Reed

Spring Peeper

Bigtooth Aspen

Relationship to Humans:

People often kill Muskrats for their fur. Sometimes people find them annoying when they have houses or structures close to water and Muskrats alter the water flow by building lodges. This might make the person's house get flooded. Muskrats are very important as marsh managers, removing extra plants and making sure waterways are clear.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Mammal
ORDER
Rodentia
FAMILY
Muridae
GENUS
Ondatra
SPECIES
Ondatra zibethicus

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