Common Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

Description
common muskrat

Size

  • The muskrat is the largest member of the rat and mouse family (Cricetidae) in North America.
  • Adults weigh about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds).

Appearance

  • Like the beaver, the muskrat is adapted to an aquatic way of life, and is an important and valuable furbearer. Its dense, waterproof, chestnut to dark-brown fur has been the mainstay of many trapline incomes.
  • Unlike the beaver, the tail of the muskrat is narrow and flattened laterally. It is used as a rudder when the muskrat is swimming.
  • Legs are short; forefeet are small and used for grasping objects.
  • Large hind feet are partially webbed and used for propelling the animal through the water.
Distribution
  • Muskrats are found in all natural regions in the province except the alpine subregion.
Natural History

Habitat

  • Muskrats spend much of their life in water. Like beavers, muskrats live in ponds, but they do not build dams.
  • Muskrat houses are built with mud, pond weeds and cattail stalks. In the winter, muskrats form "push-ups" in the pond ice over their feeding areas. Push-ups are domes of frozen vegetation covering a hole in the ice. The muskrat keeps these holes open throughout the winter by continually chewing away the ice and pulling up underwater vegetation to build the insulated dome over the hole.
  • They live in family groups, each group occupying a portion of a pond containing a house, feeding areas, and canals through cattails and other pond vegetation.
  • Each family defends its portion of the pond from other muskrats.

Food

  • Muskrats eat pond weeds and emergent vegetation.
  • They also eat a variety of animals, including:
    • Freshwater mussels
    • Frogs
    • Salamanders
    • Small fish
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Mating may occur several times during the period from March to September.
  • Litters of three to seven kits are born about a month after mating.

Growth Process

  • Kits are weaned in about a month and are expelled from the home lodge to fend for themselves.
  • Young are able to breed the following year.
Conservation and Management

Status

The common muskrat is classified as Secure in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

Trapping

 

Page Information

Updated: May 12, 2010