Fun Fact: Muskrats have a second set of lips. Find out why.
Trundling along the icy shore and sporting a side to side wobble was a muskrat. Its hind feet were surprisingly big, and sparsely furred, reminding me of a Hobbit’s. The great size of those feet and long toes could not prevent occasional slipping. The muskrat’s dark brown fur was shiny and wet, which looked like it was newly combed and slicked back with hair gel. I had to smile. The muskrat had a whiskered dark blunt nose, small round ears, dark serene eyes, and an oblong body which then ended with a long flat hairless tail. The tail was reminiscent of lion tamer’s black whip. Wobbling along it looked like an odd, yet interesting little fellow. This muskrat was intent on finding bits of vegetation to eat. Unperturbed by the proximity of the muskrat, a small Pond Wren continued to hop about also looking for something to eat.
Muskrats are often mistaken for beavers. However, they are much smaller, only have partially webbed feet, and their tails could not be more different. The muskrat’s tail is like a rope, compared to the beaver’s flat pancake-like tail. The muskrat is not a rat, but is in the rodent family. One of the muskrat’s best kept secrets is it can chew under water. This is due to a second set of lips that close behind the incisor teeth, keeping water from getting into their throats. They can stay under water for up to fifteen minutes. While swimming, muskrats’ long tails move in an S motion, and incidentally this is a great way to confirm their identity as they skim across the water. Cattails are their preferred food, although they can eat a variety of vegetation and a few other things like snails. During the winter they swim under the ice in search for plant food; therefore, they need to be in wetlands, ponds, or lakes that do not freeze solid.
Did you know they build lodges using vegetation? Cattails are useful for this purpose. They also will dig burrows into the bank of a pond. The best times for sightings are mornings and dusk. They are known to construct and to sit on mat-like structures in the water. The mats are made from aquatic vegetation and serve as a great place to eat.
Why not read this article to your children? Then, set out as a family and see if you can observe a muskrat on or around Wilden’s Hidden Lake.
-Article by Flora McLeod
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