What Are Muskrats ?


One of the little water creatures that we see occasionally around the camp is a muskrat, a little animal at home in the water more than on land. The little fellas like to live in marshes, small streams and along the shoreline of rivers and lakes.

As far back as I can remember we had at least one muskrat around the camp, he would often be seen swimming back and forth from the point to the cove. Then they disappeared for several years. However, I am happy to say in the past couple of years they seem to making a re-appearance.

Mistaken For Beavers

Although quite a bit smaller, when folks see them in the water, muskrats are often mistaken for beavers. One quick way to tell the difference, apart from size,(muskrats are smaller) is the tail, a muskrat has a longish, slender tail much like a rat.
"muskrat swimming"

A muskrats tail, which is not fur covered, is often visible above the water when they are swimming or floating around in the lake. A muskrat’s tail is usually close to the same length as his body.

Not Rats

Although their name is misleading, muskrats are not rats, nor are they members of the rat family/species. According to Wilkipedia, there are a couple of possible origins for their name. In Native Algonquin, the muskrat is called “muscascus” which refers to it’s reddish fur color, as muscascus means “it is red”.

The Abenaki referred to the muskrat as “mòskwas” which the English pronounced “musquash”.

In all probability, the “rat” part was added by the English who would have considered that the muskrat with it’s long scaly tail looked similiar to a rat, albeit bigger.

The name could also be related to the little animals “musky” odor combined with their rat like appearance. Personally I think it is more likely to be the Native name combined with what the early setters thought the muskrats looked like.

Here are some interesting facts about muskrats…bet you didn’t think you would be reading this today did ya?

Muskrat Facts

Muskrats can stay underwater for 12 to 17 minutes. Their bodies are less sensitive to a buildup of carbon dioxide than most other mammals.

Muskrats can close their ears to keep the water out. Wow…now that….would be a talent worth having, although Wendy would argue I already do.

Muskrats swim by wiggling their tail, although their hind feet are semi-webbed, and do aid them in swimming, their favorite pasttime.

Muskrats are fairly prolific and found throughout most of North America, except Florida which has a different species of muskrat. They also are found in Europe where they were introduced.

Muskrats burrow into the bank of rivers, streams and ponds with an underwater entrance that is 6 to 8 inches wide. Alternatively, they build lodges up to three feet high, out of mud and vegetation.

Muskrats eat cattails, aquatic vegetation, freshwater mussels, frogs, crayfish, fish and small turtles. Unlike beavers, they don’t store food in their lodges.

Female muskrats can have 2 to 3 litters a year of 6 to 8 young each. Their numbers, much like most wildlife, tend to be cyclical over a 6 to 10 year period.

Muskrat musk is used in some perfumes.

Muskrat are trapped for their fur, although in some circles their meat is consumed and considered to be quite tasty. I am not in any of those circles.

There is even some kind of special church dispensation in Michigan that allows muskrat to be consumed during Lent because it considered to be a fish…uh-huh.

There ya go, now you can regale your friends around the campfire with fascinating facts about muskrats.

Muskrat Meatloaf Recipe

Well, if you are interested, here is a recipe for Muskrat Meatloaf, sounds absolutely yummy. This is from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension
1 1/2 lbs. ground muskrat
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 cup dry crumbs
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 minced or grated onion

Soak muskrat overnight in salted water (1 tbsp. salt to 1 qt. water). Drain, remove meat from bones, and grind. Mix ground meat thoroughly with other ingredients. Place in meat loaf dish. Place dish in pan containing hot water. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for 1 1/4 -2 hours. Serves 6-8.

Mmmm….hooo-wheeeee…sounds so tasty.

Muskrat Pic: Wilkipedia Creative Commons/ D. Gordon E. Robertson, PhD

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