The homely muskrat

There is just nothing cute about muskrats, especially when they are wet. I found this one swimming across the pond the other day and stopped to watch while he cleaned himself up.on the edge of the bank.

They use that long naked tail like a propeller in the water, as you can see from the ripples of water around his body.

At one point the muskrat lifted its tail completely out of the water — not sure why.

The tail is almost as long as the body and flattened somewhat side to side rather than top to bottom like that of a beaver.  They are excellent swimmers and divers, staying under 10-15 minutes at a time.  Two layers of fur help keep the skin dry and insulate the muskrat’s body from the heat-sapping effect of cold water.

After swimming a couple of laps up and down the pond with intermittent dives to sample the submerged vegetation, Mr. Muskrat got out on the shady side of the pond, shook himself off, and proceeded to groom his fur thoroughly.  I was too far away to get a really good mugshot of this guy…

But here is a close-up of a dry muskrat, which I have to say, doesn’t really indicate that it looks any better dry than wet.  He does sort of look like a very large rat.

(Photo from:  http://www.factzoo.com/mammals/muskrat-musky-round-semi-aquatic-rodent.html)

However, muskrats are more closely related to voles (e.g., meadow mice) and lemmings than rats, and were originally found just in North America.  French trappers caught so many of them, their skins became popular for fur coats, and muskrats were introduced to Europe in the early 1900s to eat AND to wear.

Muskrats are found in just about any wetland habitat from fresh water marshes to saline lakes, or even man-made canal waterways.  They are fond of cattails and yellow waterlillies, and their munching on these invasives helps maintain wetlands. In turn, muskrats are a favorite food item of some wetland predators like snapping turtles, mink, otter, lynx, and some large raptors.  Just part of the great circle of life…even if they are homely.

6 thoughts on “The homely muskrat

  1. Okay, call me crazy, but I think he’s cute! Of course, I think possums are adorable, too, naked tail and all. I’d love to see one. I did see a beaver once, swimming in Lake Lure. We have some of those in north Florida, but not around here, as far as I know. But I’m not sure we have muskrats. I’ve never seen any when canoeing or camping along our rivers, but I think I’ll check. His fur is beautiful. No wonder they wanted to make coats of them. Great photos as always, Sue. Thanks for sharing.

      • Maybe so. I’ve sure seen them eating just about everything else. I don’t even think the nutria that have become so prevalent in Louisiana have made it over here. Of course, if you go down to the Everglades, there’s no telling what you’ll find. Sadly, it is becoming one big petri dish of exotics down there. Everything from thousands of burmese pythons to tagu and monitor lizards. Who knows what might be lurking down there, displacing native species and wreaking havoc, in general. I’d say the gators would eat them all, but I’ve seen evidence that they are often the ones being eaten. *sigh* It’s a mess. Frankly, I think if they said all the exotics were protected and no one was allowed to hunt them, poachers would probably wipe them out in a year!

        Thanks for the info on the muskrats. (I’m humming Muskrat Ramble, here. Bet you don’t remember that one!)

  2. Dr. Chaplin, speaking of the Muskrat’s predators…I have even heard of Muskellunge getting them from below. Maybe that is just MN folklore, but they even make lures that look like small Muskrats in an attempt to entice a really ambitious fish!

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