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.
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.