Recently, I have been fortunate to observe a muskrat out in the lily pond area. It has been merrily swimming around collecting aquatic plants and eating them under the safety of a thick shelter of willow branches overhanging the water.
The “musk” part of its name comes from two musk glands found beneath the skin at the ventral base of the tail. These musk glands are used during the breeding season to mark scent posts to establish territory and to signal the male’s maturity. The “rat” part of its name is misleading. It has a naked, scaly, narrow, slightly flattened tail that is similar to a rat, but it is not a rat. That said, they are both classified as rodents.
Muskrats love water and their habitat is marshes, ponds, lakes, streams, and other wetlands.
Its body is designed for water. They have a dense coat of waterproof fur that is overlaid with coarse guard hairs. Its hind feet have specialized hairs that grow on the sides of its long toes to help propel it through the water. It has a third, clear eyelid called a nictitating membrane that protects its eyes underwater. Amazingly, it can stay underwater for up to 17 minutes! Also, to be able to gnaw on plants in the water without drowning, its incisors are outside its lips.
For housing, muskrats may either decide to dig a burrow in the bank or build a small lodge made out of plant materials, small sticks, and mud.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.
Burt, William H. and Richard P. Grossenheider. A Field Guide to the Mammals: North America north of Mexico. 3rd ed. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.
Rezendes, Paul. Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks & Sign. 2nd ed. New York, HarperCollins, 1999.