photo: R.Town / US Fish and Wildlife Service



- from Arctic regions of North America, south to Mexico

range of muskrat


- wetlands (ponds, rivers, lakes, swamps), prefers marshy areas
- likes areas with lots of cattails, bulrushes, and pondweeds
- water must be deep enough so it doesn't freeze to the bottom
- digs burrows (tunnels) in banks if bulrushes and cattails aren't
    available to build lodges in the water.

wet muskrat, USFWS photo


- length over 30 cm (12 1/2 inches), about 50 cm to tip of tail
- much smaller than a beaver (1 1/2 kg., 3 to 4 lbs.)
- tail is long, thin, scaly, flattened, average length 24 cm (9 1/2 in.)
- body is covered with brown fur (except tail and feet)
- thick glossy waterproof layer of fur
- short thick underfur
- head is large, small ears almost invisible, whiskers
- large front teeth (two upper and two lower)
- short legs,"webbed" back feet for swimming

photo by Bryan Harry NPS


- favorite food - cattails
- also eats bulrushes, horsetails, pondweeds, wild rice
- will eat fish, frogs, clams, crayfish if plants not available
- farmers' crops


- average litter of six (from 5 to 10)
- may have three litters in 3 months
- "kits" are born in grass-lined nest
- newborns may have no fur or a very thin coat of fur
- eyes are closed (blind), weight about 22 grams, 10 cm long
- by one week they have greyish-brown fur
- able to swim in 10 days
- good swimmers and divers at 3 weeks of age
- drink mother's milk at first, in 3 weeks they eat green plants
- take care of themselves by four or five weeks of age


- has territories
- lives in large family groups
- older offspring must leave if overcrowded
- most active in late afternoon and evening
- communicates by use of scent glands which produce musky smell
- makes squeaks and squeals
- poor sense of sight, hearing, and smell
- does not like dry, hot weather


- fur keeps it waterproof and warm
- a good swimmer, stays underwater 12 to 17 minutes
- "musk scent" used to communicate and to warn others
- front feet (hands) are for building lodges, holding food, digging
- teeth stick out,able to chew food underwater with mouth closed
- large hind feet, special hairs (like webs) for swimming
- chisel-like teeth for cutting stems and roots of plants
- front teeth can be up to 2 cm. long
- burrow serves as escape from predators (enemies)
- fixes or builds lodges in the fall to prepare for winter
- stores food in fall for winter use
- in winter,chews through ice to create a push-up (mini-lodge)
- the push-up is a place for a muskrat to eat and rest


in water:
- mink feeds on young muskrats (enters burrows and lodges)
- snapping turtle and northern pike (jackfish)
on land :
- wolf, coyote, fox and dog
- badger, wolverine, fisher, racoon and lynx
- humans hunt it for its fur, some eat muskrat meat
- large birds (hawks, owls, eagles) are also enemies
- escapes into deep water or hides in burrow
- uses sharp front teeth to fight attacker


- once very important to the fur trade
- fur is used for coats, trimmings
- eats farmers' grain, tunnels destroy irrigation ditches
- not a close relative of the beaver, not a true rat
- basically a large field mouse adapted to live in and near water
- most muskrats live one or two years, but can live up to four years
- cold winters, drought, drainage of wetlands and floods
  cause a drop in population


information : The Animal Diversity Web, Canadian Wildlife Service
map and drawing "Reproduced with permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2003."
photos : R. Town / US Fish and Wildlife Service; DLS National Image Library
black and white print : by Tom Kelley / USFWS DLS National Image Library
Bryan Harry NPS Digital Image Archive

2003 (updated 2011)

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