Monday, 06 March 2017 21:55

Common Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus

photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson from Wikipedia||| photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson from Wikipedia||| |||

by Dan Potts

The muskrat is a very common medium-sized, semi-aquatic rodent found in western marshes, ponds, lakes, canals, and rivers like our own Jordan.

Although similar in appearance to younger American beaver the most significant differences are their size and tails. Beaver can grow up to 40 pounds and have large flattened, “paddle-like” tails. Muskrat are much smaller and have a skinnier tail that undulates from side to side, propelling them as they swim.

Using their webbed hind feet, both species are excellent swimmers and can dive under water long enough to escape most predators. Both can build lodges to live in and rear their young, but can also dig burrows in the banks of ponds and streams, which is the most common practice of both on the Jordan River.

Both species are rodents and no longer have any natural predators to control their population numbers here on the Jordan River. Their primary predator for many years was man, who historically trapped them for their pelts. Their warm, durable and waterproof furs were very popular a century ago as for lining coats and hats, but those uses have essentially disappeared today, largely displaced by newer synthetic materials.

Muskrats are prolific breeders and can have two to three litters a year of five to eight offspring. They have an adaptable lifestyle and omnivorous diet, but mostly eat aquatic plants, such as cattails.

Muskrat are less wary than beaver and can be active all day long, making them a better “watchable” wildlife species. It is common to see muskrat in and along the Jordan River, and I love to watch their routine feeding, preening and swimming activities.