Hey, what’s that little, brown, furry critter swimming around ponds and lakes? A muskrat!

 Adults can only weigh up to 1.5 kilograms, so these little pond-dwellers can be hard to spot. However; muskrats are still the largest members of the rat and mouse family in North America!

Muskrats look a little bit like beavers, don’t they? With their scruffy brown furry bodies and aquatic lifestyles, it could be easy to mix them up!

Physically though, muskrats are quite different. First of all, they’re much smaller, and secondly their tails are narrow and flat. In fact they almost look like rat tails.

Muskrats have partially webbed hind feet that they use to help them swim, and they use their front feet like little hands to grab objects.

Just like beavers, muskrats love water! They tend to live in freshwater marshes, ponds, marshy areas of lakes and slow moving streams. But muskrats don’t build dams the same way beavers do.

Using mud, pond weeds, cattail and bulrushes, muskrats build their homes near the water. They tend to live in family groups and can be defensive about their portion of the pond. Each muskrat family’s section has a house, feeding area and canals through cattails and pond vegetation.

With winter on its way, muskrats are busy putting together domes made from frozen vegetation to cover holes in the ice. According to Alberta Environment and Parks’ website, muskrats keep the domes open throughout the winter by continually chewing away the ice and pulling up underwater vegetation to build an insulated dome. These miniature lodges are used as resting places during underwater forays and as feeding stations.

Muskrats like to eat meat and greens. They enjoy pond weeds and vegetation, but also like feasting on mussels, frogs, salamanders and small fish.

Muskrats are feisty little critters! Especially during breeding season when they are often seen fighting within their own families.

Fun Muskrat facts!

  • Muskrats are capable of remaining submerged in water for up to 15 minutes in a relaxed state. They reduce their heart rates and relax their muscles, reducing the rate at which oxygen is used.
  • Muskrats store a supply of oxygen in their muscles during a dive and are less sensitive to high carbon dioxide levels in the blood than are non-diving mammals.
  • Muskrat’s front teeth are modified for underwater chewing. Their large incisors (or cutting teeth) protrude ahead of their cheeks and lips so they can close their mouths behind their teeth! This makes it possible for under water eating without swallowing water. 

Young muskrats are now venturing out on their own and could struggle to find homes and territories since they‘re being claimed by older muskrats, and since preparations for winter started last month. It’s possible that you might see some younger muskrats making their way into urban and residential areas looking for winter homes.
If you see a muskrat far from water or venturing into a dangerous place, give AIWC a call
at 403-946-2361. AIWC is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer


3 responses to “Muskrats”

  1. Melinda Havlas says:

    Hello, I believe I saw a muskrat (at first I thought it was a rat but now I realize it was probably a musktrat) at the Edmonton International Airport on Monday, Oct. 7th at around 10:30 pm. The muskrat was near entrance #10 and making its way across the pedestrian crosswalk towards the parking area. Then I lost track of it. I hope the muskrat is safe and okay – such a crazy area for it to be wandering around in!

  2. Melanie David says:

    My dog found a muskrat in our yard late at night a few days ago. My first thought was giant rat but his nose is short and rounded like a squirrel or beaver and a thick rat like tail. I almost trapped him the first night but he got away. He has been eating the food I left for him but I don’t want him to take up residence here as there are a lot of large dogs and outdoor cats and it is residential close to the highway. He may have come up our coulee from the park below as you suggest on your page. He may have been dropped by an owl too as he was exhausted and disoriented and I noticed a tiny amount of fresh blood on the pavement next to him. What should I do? I’m going to leave him some more food tonight because it is really cold and hes gonna need his energy to survive. Hes eaten cucumbers, grapes, a carrot and had fresh water till it froze today. I am in medicine hat alberta.

  3. editor says:

    Hi Melanie,
    Thank you for reaching out. Can you please give us a call at 403-946-2361> We can better assist you over the phone and are available each day from 9am to 5pm. Thank you!

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