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FortWhyte Alive

Hot on the Trail: Muskrats

Scientific Name: Ondatra zibethicus

 

Description

A muskrat is a small, beaver-like rodent. Its total body length including tail is approximately 60 cm (2 ft) and can 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, and a rat-like tail. Their eyes and ears are small, and have hind feet that are partially webbed, perfect for life in the water.

Food Sources

Muskrats’ favorite foods are cattails but they eat many other plants, such as sedges, rushes, water lilies, and pond weeds. They can sometimes have be seen dragging their food out to feeding platforms composed of cut vegetation, floating in water. At FortWhyte Alive they help keep cattails from overrunning our wetland banks.

Habitat

Muskrats are found all across North America near wetlands. They dislike currents and avoid rocky areas. Their homes are called “push-ups” and are made of cattails, bulrushes, and mud that can be up to 2.7 metres in diameter and 1.7 metres high.In winter, muskrats don’t hibernate like numerous other rodents, they stay awake and find food under the ice.

Reproduction

Females produce 1-2 litters per year of 4-7 young, with a gestation of 3-4 weeks. The young are born blind and with no fur, which starts to grow about 1 week after they’re born. At 2 weeks, their eyes open and they begin to learn how to swim and dive. They are weaned at 4 weeks and are driven away by the mother to find homes of their own.

Remarks

Muskrats are most active during evening, night, and early morning. They also have many physical adaptations that allow for an aquatic lifestyle; their nostrils and ears close while submerged and they are able to stay underwater for very long periods of time. One was observed, staying submerged for 17 minutes, coming up for air for 3 seconds, then going back underwater for 10 minutes. In the wild, a muskrat has a life expectancy of 3 years. In captivity, the age increases to 10 years.

 

-Ranger Rachel


 

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