Published on February 9, 2013 by Amy
The muskrat (Ondatra zibethica ) is a member of the family of rodents and is a valuable fur bearing animal. It is mainly aquatic but also moves overland, especially during breeding season when it is establishing a new home.
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The muskrat’s fur is of a rich brown color with a silverish belly. The fur coat is very dense, with coarse guard hairs. Its tail is unique being long, naked, scaly and black with flat sides which makes muskrats expert swimmers and helps to easily distinguish them from other mammals. They weigh between 2 – 4 pounds (0,9 – 1,8 kg).
Muskrats feed mainly on aquatic vegetation as well as fish, crayfish, and frogs on occasion. Their broad hind feet are webbed while their front feet are paw-like and equipped with claws that they use for gripping plants, crayfish, and fish. They preferably live in marshes and on the edges of ponds, lakes and streams which is the same habitat populated by beavers. Their “houses” are usually built in a conical form in shallow water and are constructed of cattails, reeds and mud resembling a small beaver home. In deeper waters or fast-flowing streams they dig burrows in shorelines and banks. The entrance to their home is usually underwater. They remain active during winter and are most likely to be seen during dawn and dusk.
In the North they breed between April and August, in the South they breed in winter. During the mating season muskrats are very aggressive and ignore another male’s territorial boundaries marked by scent deposits produced by glands that are located near the base of their tail. On an average there are 5 – 6 naked and blind young (although there may be just one or even up to 11 young) that are born 20 – 30 days after breeding. 2 – 3 litters per year are born to each female.