Muskrat range (native range in red, introduced range in green)Muskrat lodge, middle Patuxent River marsh, Maryland
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Muskrat

The Muskrat or Musquash (Ondatra zibethicus), the only species in genus Ondatra, is a large aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe. more...

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Adult body length is usually between 25-40 cm long, with a strong, laterally compressed tail 20-25 cm long. The body is covered in thick, brown waterproof fur; the underparts are paler. They have partially webbed hind feet and small able hand-like front feet. The weight is up to 1700 g, about four times the weight of a Brown Rat.

Swamp Bunny is a nickname for a Muskrat. It is commonly used in the Mid-Atlantic States, especially in the marsh-lands and rivers surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.

Natural habitat

They live in wetlands: ponds, lakes, marshes and river banks, hence the nickname "swamp bunny". The are very good swimmers, using their tail for propulsion in the water. They are found in Alaska, Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. Extensive burrow systems are dug in the ground adjacent to the water with an underwater entrance. In marshes, lodges are constructed from cattails and mud. They also build feeding platforms in wetlands. Muskrats help maintain open areas in marshes, which helps to provide habitat for aquatic birds.

These animals are most active at night or near dawn and dusk. They feed on cattails and other aquatic vegetation, freshwater mussels, frogs, crayfish and small turtles. Their predators include mink, foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx and large owls. They are also trapped for their fur and, in some communities, for their meat. Trapping for their fur is largely limited to the northern US states, as the most common means of trapping is by placing a trap inside their frozen hut reached via an ice covered body of water.

The male muskrat marks his territory with a strong musky secretion which gives this animal its name. Females have 2 to 3 litters of 6 to 8 young. Muskrat populations appear to go through a regular pattern of rise and dramatic decline spread over a 6 to 10 year period.

While much wetland habitat has been eliminated due to human activity, new muskrat habitat has been created by the construction of canals or irrigation channels and the muskrat remains common and wide-spread.

Muskrat as an exogenous species in Europe

At the beginning of the 20th century (around 1905), the muskrat was introduced in the European wildlife by fur traders who thought to make a profit with the animals. Some animals escaped, other were set loose after it turned out that the business wasn't profitable. Due to their rapid breeding and lack of predators, the species quickly spread out over continental Europe, from the North Sea to the Black Sea and beyond.

Adaptations

Muskrats have two very unique adaptations that help with survival. The first is the shape of their nostrils. They look like the number sevens. The shape of the nostrils allows muskrats to inhale remaining oxygen from recently exhaled breath. This allows for muskrats to swim under water for up to 15 minutes. The other adaptation has to do with how the muskrat got its name. Muskrats are named because of the musk glands located near the underside of their tail. These secretions are used to warn other muskrats to leave this muskrat's territory alone. This keeps other muskrats away which in return cuts down on competition for food and mates. This aids in the muskrat's survival.

Read more at Wikipedia.org


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