Description & Range:
Muskrats are the only species in the genus Ondatra. They are medium-sized rodents that are covered in waterproof, brown fur and have a thin, rudder-like tail covered in scales. The hind feet of muskrats are large and webbed to aid in swimming. Muskrats are 16 to 24 inches long and weigh up to 4 pounds. Muskrats are named after the musky odor produced by their scent glands.
Muskrats are common throughout Maryland and the rest of the United States, except for particularly dry regions.
Muskrats live in both brackish and freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, swamps and marshes throughout much of North America.
Muskrats primarily eat aquatic plants, including cattails, sedges, water lilies, arrowheads and duckweeds. In some areas, muskrats will feast on mats of algae. Occasionally, when food is scarce, muskrats will consume other animals such as crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects and fish. Muskrats often construct feeding platforms in the marsh to sit and eat food they have collected.
Muskrats can breed year round, but most breed in March-May. After breeding, gestation lasts about a month, and a litter of 5-10 young are born. The young are born blind and have little hair. By two weeks of age, the pups will be fully furred and will have open eyes. By six weeks of age, the pups are fully independent, and the female usually has another litter on the way. A female can have up to 5 litters of young per year.
Muskrats are active throughout the day and night. These semi-aquatic rodents spend much of their time in and around water. Muskrats build dens in river banks or construct lodges similar to beavers. Both dens and lodges consist of underwater tunnels and dry chambers. During the winter, muskrats spend the majority of their time in their dens. Sometimes, if the den or lodge is not warm enough, then the muskrat will have to relocate.
Muskrats are managed as fur-bearing animals, so annual hunting and trapping seasons for muskrats have been established in Maryland. For more information on furbearer management, then go to the Furbearer Page.
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