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Hot on the Trail: Muskrat

Posted on August 17, 2015


Photo by Ian Carter

Often confused for a beaver or woodchuck, the muskrat is a small, beaver-like rodent. Its total body length including tail is approximately 60 cm (2 ft) and they weigh between 0.5 and 1.8 kg (2-4 lbs).

Muskrats have dark brown, dense, glossy fur with white areas under the chin and belly. Their eyes and ears are small, and have hind feet that are partially webbed, perfect for life in the water. A muskrat’s tail is flattened vertically, opposite to a beaver’s. The tail acts as a rudder for steering when swimming. Muskrats’ teeth protrude ahead of their cheeks and lips so that food can be chewed underwater without flooding the mouth and throat.

Muskrats are plant-eaters. A muskrat’s favourite plant is the cattail -- which it uses both as food and to make small lodges -- but duckweed is also quite palatable.

Muskrats can hold their breath underwater for up to 15 minutes!

Mating starts right after the ice melts, and continues through the summer. Because of this, there may be two or three litters, of 5-10 kits each, all born in one summer.