Muskrat - Ondatra zibethicus
United States Marines are among the fiercest fighters on land and sea alike, but they aren’t alone when it comes to waging amphibious warfare. Another member of the animal kingdom — the muskrat — has a natural talent for thriving in the netherworld between dry land and the water, and these 18- to 24-inch, four-pound rodents are adept at leaving devastation in their wake.
Perfectly adapted for swimming with large, partially webbed hind feet and a stocky appearance, the generally dark-colored muskrat (with a lighter-colored belly fur) is found throughout most of North America. They can reach speeds faster than 3 miles per hour while swimming, steering with their tail. Dwelling almost anywhere food and water are readily available, muskrats are at home in streams, ponds, lakes, marshes, canals, swamps and more. Problems arise when a muskrat’s natural habits bring them into direct contact with homeowners.
Using available vegetation to construct conical homes that can be easily seen from the shoreline, muskrats also enjoy an alternative residence — consider it their version of a cabin in the woods — a den along the bank. It’s through these dens that the problems arise, as the muskrat’s burrowing activities can damage pond dams, boathouses and shorelines alike. They also host a large number of diseases.
Primarily plant-eaters, muskrats prefer cattails, water lilies and other aquatic vegetation, along with upland vegetation close to the water. However, turtles, crayfish, frogs and fish are also on the muskrat’s dining menu — a serious concern to homeowners seeking biodiversity in a planned pond population.
Named for paired musk glands located near their tail, muskrats use these glands during the breeding season. The nocturnal mammals can produce a couple litters per year, with between four and eight young in each litter. A muskrat’s life span is usually four years.