Muskrat: General and Surprising Facts and Five Perfect Control Methods

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) is a large rodent closely related to rats, mice, voles, hamster and lemmings. Muskrat is also known as a North American aquatic rodent. Muskrats possess wetlands, swamps, and zones close to the lakes, ponds, and streams. In specific parts of the world, muskrats are thought to be pests since they harm waterway dams and feast upon the yields. Individuals chased muskrats in the past just because of their fur and meat. In history, they had been the most trapped animals, for their fur having an economic value. Now the license is required for hunting, and according to the regulation, only army personnel can hunt without a permit. Regardless of these aspects, some species of muskrats in the wild are in abundant quantity and stable, and they are not recorded as endangered species.

These semi-aquatic creatures are named due to the rat-like look. They’re wetland dwelling mammals, and their damaging burrowing in streams, ponds, and dams can create serious problems. Some general facts of muskrats are discussed below.

Appearance and Size of Muskrats

General muskrat walking on water

A common muskrat’s body is covered with dense brown fur, and it is the scale of a large rat. Hind feet of these species are webbed, and front feet are furnished with long and sharp claws. They have broad and blunt head and little beady eyes. The ears are small and can be closed when the muskrat dives. Their scaly tail is quite long and flattened on the sides. Unlike the main body, the tail is hairless. The length of their body varies from 16 to 25 inches, including the tail which is 7-11 inches long. Muskrats weigh 0.7 to 2 kg. (2 to 3 pounds). Southern muskrats have round tail. Therefore, these species are also called round-tailed muskrats. An interesting part here is the fur on their body. It has two layers. The outer layer is dense, soft and waterproof and means to protect the inner layer from wear. They gnaw underwater with their incisor teeth with the help of the lips that work as valves. Muskrats produce a smelly substance in the anal gland which they used to mark borders of their territory. The musky smell and rat-like looks make them called “musk-rats.”


These species are semi-aquatic creatures which mean they can inhabit both on the ground and in the water. They are local to North America. They are adapted to the life in the areas of abundant water like lakes, wetlands, marshes and ponds. It can be difficult for them to survive in the hot and dry season, so they choose cool burrows dug on the banks. They either dig burrows on the banks and dams or build small cabins nearby vegetation or mud for shelter. Sometimes, their lodges even block the waterways which cause trouble to humans. They have a mechanism in their body which is called regional heterothermia. This regulates the blood flow to the feet and tail with the purpose to keep them fresh in the summer.

Food and Eating Habits of Muskrats

Muskrat eating plant near water

These small animals are omnivores and primarily feed on sedges, including cattails, aquatic plants, water lilies, duckweeds, arrowheads, and the other plants they find in their territories. When the food supply of local plants run short, they prey on aquatic species such as snails, mussels, crayfish, frogs, slow-moving fish and other insects. At some point, they can even route to flesh-eating in their family. They do not travel much in search of food. According to an average, they go about 46 meters away from their dwellings. Muskrats follow the state water trails they create in marshes and ponds. They follow their paths under the ice when water freezes. They are not likely to reserve food for winters. They can eat up all the available plants in their zone when needed. They often steal the food of other animals.

The Behavior of Muskrats

They are constantly active because they eat almost all the time. But they carry most of their activities at nightfall. They make groups comprising male and female muskrats and young muskrats, protecting their territories. Sometimes, they fight over their territories with other muskrats which result in injuries and even deaths.

They hardly live more than one year, but their reproduction rate is high. Female muskrats can give birth to 15 babies at a time. Baby muskrats are dependent on the mother for at least one month. They build shells for the protection of young muskrats from cold and predators. They build feeding platform outside of their tunnels with mud and vegetation. They are aggressive biters and scratchers if captured. They can make the pets and humans injured.

Eight Surprising Facts about Muskrats

Muskrat near the frozen water
  1. Muskrats are incredible divers. These creatures can hold breath underwater for approximately 15 minutes. The Muskrats swim both forward and backward. Their fur helps them to float. They can swim up to 3 miles/hour. The ears get closed when they are underwater, to prevent the water intake.
  2. Typically, muskrats mate when they are underwater.
  3. New-born muskrats cannot see, and they are furless.
  4. These creatures are known as the most valuable and the most trapped animals for their fur. Hunters still trap them. However, the state has made regulations for their hunting.
  5. They play an instrumental part in the particular ecological system; they create nesting areas for other birds through their diet and denning habits.
  6. In winters, they remain active even under the frozen water.
  7. Muskrats do not only have one set of lips. There is also a second set of lips that helps to dive, gnaw and eat without swallowing water. These lips close behind ever-growing incisors.
  8. A muskrat pair can stay together for a season even without mating and usually refuse to mate with other muskrats.

【Read more about Mating】

Identify Muskrat Damage

Muskrats are perceived as pests all around the globe. At the end of the day, nobody truly needs them around. Muskrats live close to the water banks and burrow profound tunnels which can truly bring about a perilous circumstance for the muskrat and the general population that goes to the water. If they happen to make their home on the side of a dam, they can truly disturb the way the water stream of water. The attack can make the dam fall or surge certain spots that shouldn’t get water. The creature can likewise uproot different species that are living in that biological system. Muskrats easily damage the grass in your garden since they eat plants and vegetation solely when their sustenance sources diminish close to their tunnel. These creatures will sneak into your garden during the evening and eat every one of your plants, vegetables, blooms, and herbs. This is a huge issue for individuals who farms organic plants and solely depends on it for the daily diet.

Now we are going to make you familiar with the ways you can easily recognize the presence of muskrats. Some of the most popular ways are narrated below:

Muskrat’s invasion can be identified through the tracks. Muskrat tracks are like small human hands with finger-like toes. These hand like prints are 2 to 3 inch long. There are visible tail marks in between the prints. These tracks are easy to find in the winter season. They can be found in the mud near the wet areas. If you notice these tracks somewhere nearby, start taking actions because muskrats are now entered in your area.

  • Muskrat Droppings

Muskrat droppings can be found on dry surfaces as well as in the water. These droppings are brown, black or green and appear as curved or cylindrical having the diameter of 3/8 inch and length of the ½ inch. If the droppings are on the dry surface, these would be on elevated surfaces.

  • Feeding Platforms

The muskrats build feeding platforms that are elevated and flat pads of mud. They do not eat their food where they find it instead they drag it to the feeding platform near the travel paths outside of their dens. These platforms are also evidence of their presence.

  • Lodges

They also reside in dome-shaped lodges which are made up of aquatic vegetation and lots of mud. These lodges are 5 feet in height and 8 feet wide.  These little cabins are the clear indication of muskrat presence.

  • Muskrat Entrances

As these animals are wetland dwelling, so they build their tunnel near water. You will also find the burrow entrances in dams or backs. These holes have the diameter of 6-8 inches and are approximately 3 feet beneath the water. Take notice of these openings because they can be a big problem if cause blockage in waterways.

  • Leaking Dams or Ponds

They always seek places to dig the burrows. These holes can bring a lot of destruction with them. They not only block the waterways but their extensive burrowing can the leakage in ponds and dams. If you find any leakage problem, take it seriously if you don’t want further damages.

  • Collapsed Banks

Banks are collapsed due to the impact of across-the-board burrowing. Their digging activities destroy everything that comes in their way. Indicate the collapsed banks and don’t let this tiny creature bring annoyance for you.

Muskrat Controls

Muskrats’ burrowing habits result in many damages. They damage crops and garden due to their feeding habits. Sometimes the damage is not apparent, but the destruction can be severe, so it is crucial to recognize the muskrat burrows and other signs as soon as possible. They also carry bacterial diseases which can be fatal.

【Read more about Rodents】

If you have a muskrat issue, here are some basic tricks you can attempt to eradicate muskrats.

1. Habitat Modification

Muskrat swimming in water

Muskrats can be kept away through habitat modification. If your area is providing everything a muskrat needs, get everything off that has the possibility to bring muskrats. Use the proper specifications when you build new ponds such as the width, the top of the dam should be 8 feet. The water level should start three feet below the top. The inner and outer face should be built with proper measurements. Manipulate the water level to force the animal to find any other place to reside. Raised water level in winter will let the animal out of their homes while the low water level in summers will uncover them to predators. These situations will force them to look for another place to dwell.

Another way to prevent the damage is to place mesh wire on the inner part of the dam. Make sure your area is not proving enough food supply for muskrats.

2. Frightening Devices

Scary gadgets are devices available in the market to lessen the effects of wildlife damage. The effectiveness of such tools depends on the creature’s visual and sound-related abilities and how it can influence the animal. Terrifying devices incorporate fireworks, gas exploders, statues, lights, lasers, monitor creatures, bioacoustics, and ultrasonic tools. At the point when utilized as a part of a coordinated framework, these might be more viable than when utilized alone. These tools may not eliminate the destruction but can surely reduce it. These can be cost effective if timely used. These can bring the damages to a bearable level.

3. Toxicants

Different types of toxicants

63% concentrate zinc phosphide is the only registered toxicant available to control muskrats. This pesticide is used to make baits for the traps. These baits are prepared by pasting vegetable oil label to apple slices, carrots or sweet potatoes. The enticing material is kept on their floating platforms, tunnels entrance or in lodges.

Some other materials that have been proved effective are anticoagulant baits include warfarin, pivalyl, chlorophacinone, and diphacinone. Anticoagulant baits are utilized in the shape of a paraffinized “lollipop.” The active ingredients in the formula are melted paraffin, pesticide, and grain. It should be properly placed on the feeding houses or burrows. Take the safety measures and don’t let your kids play outdoors when you are using these toxicants.

4. Trapping

Numerous ground-breaking tricks have been used for both killing and live trapping muskrats. For instance, stovepipe trap, barrel, and boxes. Most of the traps are sold for muskrat prevention. Muskrat trapping kits are also available in the market that offers grass root elimination of pests. The best traps can be set in the pathways or trails where the muskrats have regular in and out of a den. These trails or runs are easily found in clear water or felt with feet or hands underwater. Furthermore, these sequences are also used to identify the alternate routes of the muskrat. Put the trap as near to the cave entrance as feasible without confining trap movements.

Mostly stovepipe traps work effectively in rice fields, farm ponds, and marshes. They can trap more than two muskrats at one time. It is difficult to set, but it is very effective and cheap. You can quickly remove the animal from the trap when caught. If the trap is live, leave them at some place far away. Please go through the state regulations for trapping before buying one.

5. Shooting

Shooting the muskrats is another way. It requires skills and good marksmanship. Best time to shoot them is early evening or the first hour in the early morning. This method may eradicate one or two animals in small ponds. Keep your children and pets away while doing this. Muskrats can rarely be saved for fur or meat if shot in the water.


These semi-aquatic rodents were once the most hunted animals; their fur trade had a high economic significance. People had also been hunting them to utilize their flesh as meat in their meals. These species possess the places for their dwelling such as in dams, ponds, and marshy areas and they build the nest in prairies near plants and damp places. But their extensive burrowing in dams and ponds has put the locals in trouble. They have to deal with so many damages like a blockage in waterways and leakage and destroyed banks. You have to recognize the damages at an early stage to indicate the invasion of muskrats in your house. Various methods are available to deal with them. Use the toxicants, repellents, poisons or traps. If the number of muskrats is out of your control, contact the pest control professional to avoid further damage.

Leave a Comment