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The muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus, is a semi-aquatic, medium-sized mammal.
Muskrat species belong to the natural order of rodents. Ondatra zibethicus includes 142 other species of rodents, largely voles and lemmings.
An adult muskrat weighs 1.3- 4.4 lb (0.6–2 kg ) with a body length of 8-10 in (20–35 cm). Muskrats get their name from the musk odor they leave and their appearance related to rats. Muskrat's origin is from North America, and its population spreads across Asia, Europe, and South America. Muskrats are dark brown with thick, short fur and long tails. This animal is larger than a rat. An average muskrat grows from 16-25 inches (41-63.5 cm) long and weighs about 1.5-4 lbs (0.7-2 kgs). Their tails are long, adding another 7-11 inches (18-28 cm) to their length. These mammals have webbed hind feet, but front feet are not webbed, and they have four sharp-clawed toes with a small thumb on their front feet. Their hind feet are webbed with stiff hairs. Their webbed feet aid them in swimming. They love to be on the water and spend most of their time swimming in the water.
Muskrats can swim inside the water for about 12-17 minutes. These mammals are excellent at swimming, and they can swim both forward and backward. Their body is well suited to their aquatic life. Their two layers of fur protect them from cold water, their webbed hind feet act as propulsion, their tails with more scales than hair guides their way to swim as rudders. Their tails also keep track of their way in the land. Muskrats can also keep their ears closed while they are in the water. Muskrats are social, living with their families, adult male and adult female partner with their young ones. Young babies are born small and hairless. The young babies start swimming in 30 days. Muskrat's diet varies depending on the habitat and availability of vegetation around. They eat aquatic plants and vegetation like cattails, water lilies, sedges, duckweeds, and arrowheads. They also eat a few small animals like insects, snails, frogs, fish, mussels, and turtles, adding to their diet. They are omnivorous, like rats. Muskrat burrows their own nest in water banks to protect themselves from cold and enemies. They are also preyed on by predators like foxes, wolves, cougars, alligators, eagles, bears, bobcats, and many other animals in the wildlife.
If you find this article interesting and would love to learn more about muskrats, read our fun fact articles on nutria vs. muskrat and muskrat vs. beaver.
Muskrats are semi-aquatic residing on wetlands or near wetlands. Muskrat lives in and around water with an adequate supply of feed as plants and aquatic vegetations in the wild.
Muskrat habitat habits include digging tunnels or constructing lodges, depending on the place. They dig tunnels on steep banks or dams by burrowing into the water banks with their sharp claws. Their burrows are raised a little from the underwater, leaving their chambers dry. These underwater entrances range between 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) wide. Unlike steep land or dams, muskrats will construct dome-shaped lodges in other places. These lodges have ventilation holes covered by small plants, branches, or dense vegetation. These lodges are constructed with aquatic plants, branches, and mud and are up to 3 ft (91 cm) in height. Muskrats will cover the opening of their lodges with vegetation around in snowy regions. Their lodges are swept away in the spring and flood, so they must be replaced every year. Muskrats will feed on vegetation around the wetland while staying protected and safe in their den. Slow-moving streams, marshes, swamps, lakes, canals, and ponds are the habitat of muskrat where they build their homes.
Muskrats are native to North America, An exotic species extending their populations in places like Europe, Asia, and South America.
Muskrats are widely found in Canada, and the United States also has a sparse population in northern Mexico. Muskrats were exposed to Europe in the 20th century and became overpopulated, leaving their adverse effects in northwestern Europe.
The muskrat’s native geological land covers most of North America. Muskrats populations are extended from the south side of the tundra stating Alaska to Newfoundland and the southern United States, British, Columbia. The exotic population of muskrats is in California, though some part of California, like Baja California, has the native population. In South America, the muskrat was spread into southern Argentina. They are not found in Florida and South Carolina of America.
Muskrats are active in the day, but they are most active in the afternoon and after dusk at night.
They sleep, rest, and seek shelter in their lodges and burrows. Muskrats built two types of homes for them to rest. They dig a tunnel near the riverbank, slightly raised from the water level. They also build dome-shaped lodges made from tree stumps, mud, plants, and aquatic vegetation. Muskrat sleep and give birth in these dome-shaped lodges.
The whole colony of muskrats takes over the wetland in the winter, with mounds of plants pushed up all around.
Muskrats do not save or store food for winter as some animals do. They have to find food and eat every day, even in cold winters. Muskrat doesn't hibernate either, and they live in their main lodges during the season. Muskrats burrow their dens in steep banks like a river, but in places like marshes, they build their lodges with cattails and mud. They lay a firm base on the marshes piling up with plants, carefully assembling the rising mound and repairing the holes with roots of water lily. Their lodges will be covered with ice making it difficult to go out underwater to find food. Muskrat will use its sharp teeth to cut through the ice-making holes 100 yards away and cover them with marsh plants forming a little hut to peep out through the ice to breathe, rest, and eat. Muskrats will go swimming to their feeding grounds to eat their feed and goes back to rest in its lodge. When the vegetation is scarce, they feed on fish and small animals around in the cold.
Muskrats can remain underwater for only 15 minutes in the cold due to decreased heart rate and oxygen restored in their muscles. Muskrat's thick, waterproof fur keeps them warm even in water. Muskrats huddle together in groups in their lodges to keep their body hot and warm.
The muskrat is generally spotted near ponds, marshes, rivers, lakes, canals, and ditches. This animal prefers a habitat with four to six feet of still or slow-moving water or wetlands with plants like cattails, bulrushes, sedges, and pondweeds around.
In steep banks like creeks, ditches, canals, dams, rivers, and ponds, they start burrowing their tunnel with sharp claws and build dry chambers above the water level, with an underwater entrance to the burrow. They feed on the fodder and rest in their lodges, protecting them from predators and cold climates. The muskrat builds a dome-shaped lodge built with mud, plants, and tree stump in the marsh environment. The lodges are 4 ft (1.21 m) high, with an inner chamber with more than one underwater channel to exit. In situations like winter and nesting, the muskrat may build separate lodges for feeding and nesting!
Muskrats play a vital role in the ecosystem as prey, source of food for many predators. They are also beneficial by opening the waterways for ducks and a few water animals by eating the aquatic vegetation. Muskrats are also a source to the fur market, and their meat is also sold.
They can also be very destructive, destroying the ecosystem with their foraging and burrowing activities which damages agricultural crop and their growth. Significantly essential crops like rice rely on water levels for growth. Muskrats also cause damage by eating these crops and vegetation, fish, and mussels affecting the aquaculture life. Destruction of crops and vegetation affects the other habitats and species living. The restoration of the destruction takes quite a long time affecting the wildlife and environment. Economic losses are recorded due to crop destruction by muskrat in various places like California, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Muskrat's burrowing and harvesting plants disturb the water and their sediments, increasing the turbidity, reducing the clarity of the water, clogging the treatment filters, and giving chances for an algae bloom.
Muskrats are beneficial to humans in a few ways, but the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Growing muskrats increased as they provided a source to the fur industry, but their vast population became more complicated.
Muskrats may look harmless, but they cause economic loss and trouble to landowners and their property through burrowing and harvesting, destroying the crops, and habitation around. They are also carriers of infections and parasites polluting the drinking water, causing beaver fever and endangering diseases. These animals carry the virus, which doesn't need contact with humans but can still spread the virus through their pets. An infected muskrat is aggressive and spreads the virus through other animals. They are also carriers of other diseases like tularemia and leptospirosis. These diseases are spread by drinking contaminated water. The aggressiveness of this animal is dangerous when it is infected. They act aggressively towards other animals adding chances to attack humans or children playing around and spreading the disease. It is best to build a fence to avoid such endangering animals.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created many interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for where do muskrats live, then why not take a look at where do skunks live or muskrat facts.
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