Muskrat

Ondatra zibethicus

Muskrat

Appearance

Muskrats have a round body, covered with a waterproof layer of fur. They have a layer of dense underfur, with thicker guard hairs over top. Muskrats are dark brown to greyish brown in color and about 50 centimetres long, from their nose to the end of the tail. Their skinny tail is flat and scaly.

Range & Habitat

They are found all over North America thanks to their use of many types of aquatic habitats. In 1905 they were introduced into Europe and are now common in Europe and northern Asia. They usually live in fresh water marshes, marshy areas of lakes, or slow moving streams. They build lodges using aquatic vegetation but will dig burrows into the bank if vegetation is not available.

Diet & Behaviour

Muskrats prefer to eat cattails however they will eat a variety of plants. They may be carnivorous when there is no plant material available. Muskrats are specially adapted to chewing on plants underwater. Their lips can close behind their teeth so that they can chew on roots and stems without water getting in their mouth, throat or nose! Muskrats can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes by reducing their heart rate and storing oxygen in their muscles.

Lifecycle & Threats

The young develop rapidly and are independent of their parents at six weeks. Breeding continues during the summer; the last litters are born in August. Winters are spent in lodges, which protect them from predators and the cold winter. Despite heavy trapping and draining of wetland areas, muskrats are a common animal in Canada.

Status

COSEWIC: Not at Risk
CDC: Yellow

More Information

www.nature.ca

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev