Common Muskrat - Ondatra zibethicus
The muskrat is a large rodent that is is about one to two feet in length. It has a stocky body; a rounded head; and a long, scaly black tail that is 7 to 12 inches long. Its tail is laterally flattened, that means it is flattened vertically! Its tail works like a rudder and helps the muskrat maneuver in the water! It has thick, soft, glossy reddish-brown to dark brown fur on its uppersides and paler fur on its undersides. It has a thick coat of fur under its guard fur that is waterproof. It may also have a white patch of fur under its chin and a darker patch of fur on its nose. The muskrat has small eyes and tiny ears. It has short legs and small front feet. Its rear feet are larger and slightly webbed. It gets its name from the two musk glands on its rear under its tail.
The muskrat is found from northern North America south to the Mexican border. It is not found in parts of California, Florida, and Texas. It is found throughout New Hampshire.
The muskrat is found in swamps, marshes, rivers, ponds, lakes, drainage ditches, and canals. It prefers an environment with four to six feet of still or slow-moving water and plants like cattails, pondweeds, bulrushes, and sedges. It needs open travel channels in the water so it can move around easily. In marsh environments, the muskrat builds a dome-shaped lodge of plants.
The muskrat can close its mouth around its protruding teeth and chew underwater! The muskrat eats aquatic vegetation like cattails, sedges, rushes, water lilies, and pond weeds. In some areas, it also eats clams, mussels, snails, crayfish, small fish, and frogs. The muskrat doesn't eat its food where it finds it; it usually drags its food out to a feeding platform in the water or a feeding station near one of its travel paths. These feeding platforms are made of mud and vegetation and allow the muskrat to eat its food without worrying about predators! The muskrat is crepuscular, that means it is most active at dawn, dusk, and at night.
In the southern part of its range, the muskrat may breed year-round. In the northern parts of its range, mating season runs from March through August. The female muskrat can have up to five litters a year. Male muskrats compete for females. The female gives birth to 2-9 young. The young are covered with fur at birth and their eyes are closed. They can swim when they are about 10 days old and begin to eat vegetation when they are about 20 days old. They are fully weaned when they are about a month old. They leave their mother after weaning and establish their own territory. They mate when they are about a year old. The average life span of a muskrat in the wild is three or four years.