Muskrats – The Town Builders
Muskrats are rodents that look like a cross between a rat and a beaver. They live in water. The animal has two musk glands under its tail. It produces a strong odor that smells like musk. Muskrats were originally found only in North America. People took them to Europe and Asia in the early 1900s. The scientific name of the muskrat is Ondatra zibethicus.
Muskrats build their houses in water, using mud, cattails, and other plants. These structures are typically more than one meter high and several meters broad. Muskrats dig narrow channels through the surrounding plant growth.
They eat sedges, reeds, and roots of water plants, as well as mussels, crayfish, salamanders, and fish.
Muskrats have small eyes and ears. Its body is about 33 centimeters long. Muskrats are excellent swimmers. They have a long scaly flat tail which is used as a rudder for steering or changing direction while swimming. They can remain submerged for as long as seventeen minutes, and they often do this to hide. They have elevated hemoglobin content in the blood, and myoglobin in the muscles, which creates additional oxygen reserves.
Their vision and sense of smell are poorly developed, mainly, they rely on hearing.
Muskrat brownish red fur is waterproof and keeps the animals warm. People kill them because of their fur which is prized for the manufacture of warm, fashionable coats and other garments. In some areas people eat muskrats.
These animals are most active during the evening and nighttime. Muskrats live in family groups.
A female can give birth to several litters during a year. A litter consists of 1 to 11 young. The babies are born blind, but after a month they can care for themselves. A muskrat usually lives for about three years in the wild and up to 10 years in captivity.