Last week I got out of the office and hit a trail. It was a gorgeous day and spring was in full swing. I waddled along with a Canada goose and watched as a red-eared slider launched itself into the safety of the cool pond water. I could hear the calls of the beautiful purple martins that nest in the nearby nest boxes and even spotted a red tailed hawk coming in for a landing in a tall oak tree. As I finished my lively stroll, I noticed something in the water, and it wasn’t the catfish or bluegill that I am accustomed to witnessing.
The brown fur seemed to cut through the water effortlessly, barely making a wake. The thin hairless tail was almost a foot long and seemed to just float along with the chubby little critter. The fish scattered as this plant-eating predator dove down and disappeared under the algae. I scanned the whole pond hoping to see the muskrat surface once more. There he was right in front of me! Still under the murky water and making his way to the edge of the pond, I thought maybe he would come on land and I would be afforded a better gander at this beautiful creature. As luck would have it, the muskrat never did make an appearance on land. There was a burrow entrance on the side of the pond nearest to me where he had made his home, as they commonly do, and he gracefully swam away.
Muskrats are widely distributed throughout North America and can even be found in Alaska. Born blind, they are known to have a musky smell and they can grow up to 25¼ inches long. They not only build homes on the banks of bodies of water but they will also build tunnel systems that connect to feeding grounds and other surface trails. Waterfowl love to use muskrat houses for idling and will commonly spend all day sunning themselves on the roof of these twig houses. Muskrats mostly eat vegetation but have been known to eat other animals when food is scarce. These cool critters are just one of the amazing animals that you can find when you get outdoors and explore the natural world. For more information on muskrats, see the link to our online field guide.