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Muskrats Enjoying Last Days Above Ice

12-22-14  MUSKRAT IMG_3496Muskrats and beavers are eking out the last few days that they will spend above the ice for perhaps several months. Fortunately for muskrats, they can hold their breath and remain under water for up to 20 minutes, time enough to get from one unfrozen patch of water to another. Once the ice freezes completely, muskrats will use ‘push-ups’ or ‘breathers’ as resting places and breathing holes — masses of vegetation collected from underwater and pushed up through cracks or holes in the ice.

Throughout the year muskrats eat the roots and stems of a number of aquatic plants as well as crayfish, frogs, turtles and other prey, when available. Unlike beavers, muskrats don’t store food for the winter, but forage for vegetation (see green plants on ice). Sometimes muskrats will feed from the winter food supply piles gathered by beavers. They have also been known to use the walls of their own lodge as food.

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4 responses

  1. Great topic! We have a vast muskrat community at Great Meadows NWR in Concord, MA and watching their winter habits and trials has been fascinating over the years. In 2010, when their population was very high, about 75 lodges went up in the marshes in November and the hard freeze and snowfall that followed brought daily rounds of foraging coyotes through who eventually excavated most of those for their breakfast of occupants.

    The most curious winter behavior I’ve witnessed was at dusk, with my children many years ago. There was the sudden, random appearance then disappearance of scores of individual muskrats up on the ice. It was almost too dark to see what they were or how they got there. But in the daylight, I noticed many small open holes in the ice which presumably they climbed through for an apparent brief view of the world above the waterline.

    This past month we also watched visiting coots foraging vegetation off the muskrat lodges for their own nourishment. And bald eagles, stopping by to feed on the coot, using the lodges as their own dining tables.

    December 22, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    • Fascinating, Cherrie. I have been to Great Meadows – a wonderful spot! Your sightings are amazing.

      December 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm

  2. Fascinating post (& comment from Cherrie). Great photo of a very plump muskrat!

    December 23, 2014 at 10:11 pm


    Mary,  That looks like a beaver in the photo.  Thanks, Judi

    December 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm

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