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Muskrat Division of Labor

5-6-13 muskrat carrying grassi 093Although muskrats are primarily nocturnal, you occasionally see them in the daytime, especially in the spring and fall. They often reside in ponds or marshes, where they live in the pond bank or build their own house out of mud, cattails and other available plant material. Muskrats are herbivores, favoring cattail roots, arrowhead, bur reed, pickerelweed and other aquatic vegetation. The pictured muskrat is not feeding, however — more often than not muskrats eat their food where they find it, especially during the warmer months. It is doing its share of parental care — this is the time of year when the first of several litters of muskrats are born. While the mother nurses her four or so young, the father spends time gathering bedding material for his offspring. The muskrat in this photograph spent a morning cutting and gathering several mouthfuls of grasses growing by the side of the pond. When he couldn’t fit one more blade of grass in his mouth he would scurry down the bank and disappear into a burrow which most likely led to a chamber where his young are being raised. Like their beaver cousins, muskrats tend to keep a tidy house and forage for fresh bedding for their young with some regularity.

6 responses

  1. Peter Denis

    We have a pair of muskrats around our pond. They are forever swimming around busily and avoiding our Jack Russell Terrier. My cottage is in Georgeville, Qc, close to Lake Memphremagog.

    I enjoy your postings.

    Peter Denis

    May 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    • I know lots of people who don’t have a very high regard for muskrats, but I’m glad to know there are others who enjoy them, including your Jack Russell!

      May 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    • Bob Lobel

      question.. live on charles in dover near south natick. Muscrats, otters, or beavers. how to tell the difference. they swim from shore to shore, up and down and dive with a big splash. probably just muscrats right?

      May 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      • Hi Bob,
        Hard to say for sure without seeing, but as a general rule, muskrats and otters don’t usually make a big splash when they go under the water — they just slip under. A beaver, if alarmed, slaps its tail against the water before disappearing under the water, making a very big splash, indeed. On a river the size of the Charles, beavers would tend to make their den/lodge in the bank of the river. Any sign of beavers? Their work is pretty evident. Muskrats also tend to be found where there are cattails — for both their diet and their housing. Hope this helps!

        May 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

  2. Ned Jacoby

    Mary – You are losing the first line of your articles somehow. Check it out. All the best, Ned Jacoby (lunch at Walker Weed’s house)

    May 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    • Thanks, Ned. Doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else…

      May 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm

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