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Posts Tagged ‘spring muskrat’

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Even though it was a frosty cold day last Friday, Seabrooke and I spotted this muskrat foraging at the side of the Tay River in Perth. He was not in the least bit bothered by our presence and continued foraging while we watched. It was the first muskrat we’ve seen out and about since last fall.

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Muskrats are active in the winter, but aren’t usually seen. In the fall, they build a lodge and a system of pushups that allow them to forage under the ice. Muskrats can find food during the winter under a metre of ice and snow, in ice-cold water and almost total darkness. They have specially adapted teeth that protrude ahead of their cheeks, and lips that can close behind them, permitting the muskrat to chew on stems and roots under water with its mouth ‘closed’. For more on muskrats in winter, visit Muskratville.

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Muskrats have a rich, waterproof fur coat. The short underfur is dense and silky, while the longer guard hairs are coarser and glossy. Their feet and tail are mostly hairless. The hand-like front feet are used in building lodges, holding food, and digging burrows and channels. Although the hind feet are used in swimming, they aren’t webbed like those of a beaver. The tail is used like a rudder when the muskrat swims on the surface, and is used for propulsion when the muskrat is underwater.

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I spotted a second muskrat a few days later at the edge of our own little river. He was likewise occupied with foraging for food. Cattails are a muskrat’s preferred food item, but a variety of other plants are eaten as well.

Although a number of predators prey on muskrats, their number one enemy is people. Humans alter and destroy habitat, but also hunt muskrats for their fur. The muskrat contributes more to the income of North American trappers than any other mammal and is very important to the trapping industry. Muskrats are prolific breeders, though, and their numbers have been resilient.

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