Large rodents that live in and near freshwater, muskrats are similar in appearance to beavers, though they are typically much smaller. They populate shallow-water areas throughout the United States and were once some of the most commonly trapped animals in the country. Their name is derived from the strong, musky scent they produce during mating seasons and to mark their territory. Muskrats have specialized lips that act as valves, closing behind the front incisors so as to allow them to gnaw underwater.
Typically dark brown in color, muskrats have dense coats that are practically waterproof and covered in coarse guard hairs. They grow up to 24 inches in length and weigh around 4 pounds. Muskrat tails are thin, nearly hairless, and resemble those of rats. Other distinguishing features include small eyes and ears, short front legs with claws for digging, and longer hind legs with partially webbed feet that help the animal swim.
Muskrats prefer living in areas with consistent sources of shallow water, including ponds, swamps, slow-moving streams, marshes, and other wetlands. Generally herbivores, muskrats look for places with abundant aquatic plants like cattails, waterlilies, and duckweed. They burrow into the banks of ponds or streams, constructing dens that typically have at least one underwater entrance and are comprised of aquatic plants and mud.
Are muskrats known to enter homes or yards?
As semi-aquatic animals, muskrats typically have no interest in entering manmade structures. Human and muskrat interactions occur when homeowners have ponds or other sources of water on their property. Though they primarily feed on aquatic vegetation, large populations of muskrats sometimes venture into gardens to supplement their food sources.
Do muskrats harm people or property?
The majority of muskrat damage is done to the ecosystems in which they live as their feeding habits cause deterioration of available food sources for other species. Homeowners that plant gardens near muskrat habitats can experience loss of crops. Additionally, the animal's preference for building dens on the banks of waterways can mar existing dams and dikes. Muskrats will claw and bite both humans and pets in order to escape when they feel threatened, and they carry a variety of diseases and parasites, including ticks and lice.
Control and Safety
Habitat modifications can be employed to keep muskrat populations from encroaching on private property. Managing slopes and water levels helps discourage muskrats from burrowing into pond embankments, as does installing barriers and trimming overgrown aquatic vegetation. Erecting fences around gardens and other crops can effectively deter muskrats, as well.
Trapping and Removal
As muskrats reproduce quickly and become aggressive when cornered, trapping and removing them without professional assistance can be both dangerous and time-consuming. Wildlife Management Services specialists have the knowledge, skills, and tools to remove infestations of muskrats humanely and efficiently.
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