The secretion of milk from mammary glands in the process of feeding their young is characteristic of all mammals. The muskrat, an amphibious rodent that is mostly aquatic is no different (Colby 1967).
Its name is derived from scent glands otherwise known as musk within their bodies. This scent is vital in their communication while mating or defending their territory. Muskrats can be found in water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds or marshes with at least not less than 4 feet and not exceeding 6 feet. Marshes are however the most suitable habitat for muskrats.
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On average a muskrat has a length of about 2 feet and weighing close to 3 pounds. Its eyes are small and the ears hidden in the fur (Cyril 1984). Its lips are fleshy and furred such that it can gnaw with its incisors while underwater without water sipping in its mouth. Its short legs and small forefeet ensure that it grabs objects.
The grip is further enhanced by a large hind feet with strongly clawed toes (Banfield, 1974). The muskrat can be easily tracked by its tail which accompanies the track made by the foot. Its color can be black, grey, white or albino though the commonest is the mahogany color with tawny or grey under parts. The Cree Indians referred to this creature as “Musquash” due to a pungent smell noticeable in the mating season (Colby, 1967).
Way of life
Muskrats are mainly nocturnal and since most of their time is spent in water these little creatures are excellent swimmers. On average a muskrat can spend up to fifteen minutes under water. They use their tail and hind feet as propellers and rudder respectively. Due to the waterproof fur, muskrats can remain submerged for about 3 minutes. The underbelly fur adjusts easily to the seasons. In the warm seasons it is pale and becomes darker as the cold season approaches.
Just like most mammals muskrats live in family units and are aggressive in defending their home territory. Normally, the home environment is approximately 65 yards. The area population densities vary from 3 to 4 animals per acre to about 35 per acre.
The muskrats face the threats of a number of predators both inside the water and on land. The most serious and notable predator is the mink. During the spring these predators are notorious since the muskrats are on the move whereas the young are confined in the dens. Other predators include the snapping turtle, foxes, wolves, black bear and some birds that kill the muskrats when out in the open marshes.
Muskrats live in well plastered mud houses constructed on bulrushes. The houses are either built on a stump or on a log. The location is normally close to deep water, about 4 feet above water level or at the edge of a vegetation cover.
The area should not be one that faces drastic water level changes though the year. This is to ensure that the young are offered with enough protection for the muskrats since they face threats from the predators. However, in most cases the homes are usually destroyed in spring as a result of flooding.
The Muskrat’s Diet
The muskrat has two kinds of diet that are favored either during summer or winter. To a greater extend muskrats are herbivores but in case of scarcity they do predate on other animals. In the summer season there is plenty of food, mostly emergent vegetation such as water lily, bulrush and arrowhead (Barker, 1987).
This diet is well balanced with animal matter which include; small turtles, frogs, catfish and salamanders. The winter food is usually limited since much food is not stored in summer. The submerged vegetation that wholly meets the diet of the muskrats comprises water weed, water lily tuber, and pondweeds.
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