Wild Profile: meet the muskrat

Updated: January 16, 2019

By Karel Gallas/Shutterstock

Look, it’s a beaver! Actually, no, that’s a muskrat. But you’re not that far off. Muskrats are also semi-aquatic, with stocky builds and waterproof fur. They live in freshwater wetlands and build lodges. But the dead giveaway? Muskrats have long, skinny, hairless tails—just like real rats—instead of a beaver’s wide, lake-slapping paddle.

These large rodents are designed for life in the water. They can stay below the surface for 15 minutes at a time. In the winter, they create breathing holes for themselves by chewing gaps in the ice and pushing vegetation into the newly-created openings. The plants keep the holes—called “push-ups”—from closing through the winter.

Muskrats feed largely on aquatic plants. Their teeth, lips, and cheeks are specially adapted to allow them to chew underwater without actually getting water into their mouths or, worse, their throats. And if a muskrat runs out of provisions in the winter, it can eat its own house; muskrats build their lodges out of some of their favourite plant foods, including cattails and reeds. Yummy.

 

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