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common muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus zibethicus)

Photos

Distribution Map

Distribution Map

Characteristics

This is a large rodent with a large, blunt head, small eyes, short small ears almost hidden in fur and partially webbed hind feet (broad) to accommodate its semiaquatic existence. They are aptly named for the strong musky odor they can produce. The fore feet are smaller and the tail is long, laterally flattened, scaly, and sparsely haired ventrally. The fur is rich brown above, with coarse guard hairs, paler below. The muskrat's total length is 456-553 mm, and weight is 0.6-1.8 kg. The breeding season is approximately February-October and 2-3 litters of 5-7 young are produced each year. Muskrats build houses of rushes, leaves.sticks and mud. The house usually contains adults and 2-4 young and they build 2 types of structures: 1) elliptical nesting or dwelling houses and 2) circular feeding shelters. Longevity is from 3-4 years. There are many predators, including mink (especially), and raccoon, bald eagles, great horned owls, ferruginous hawks, marsh hawks, foxes, water moccasins and larger turtles.

Distribution

This species is probably present in all or most counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This species likes marshes, ponds, lakes, low-gradient streams, bank burrows or houses.

Foods

Muskrats store food and nest materials. When the pond is frozen in the winter, this species feeds mostly on roots of aquatic plants until they are no longer accessible, then leaves the burrow on top of the ice in search of food. . Cattail is the most preferred but they also eat cordgrass, needlegrass, thatchgrass, eelgrass, and panicgrass, wild calla, spikerush.

More Information

For more information, please visit the Virginia Fish & Wildlife Information Service (direct link to species booklet).