The muskrat is a semi-aquatic mammal with brownish fur and a long, rudder-like tail. It is found in marshes and other shallow-water areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The muskrat has thick, glossy fur that varies in color from blackish to silvery-brown, with a paler throat and belly. Its scaly, hairless, rudder-like tail is flattened on the sides and can grow to 10 inches long. Its small ears are nearly hidden within its fur, and it has partially webbed hind feet. The muskrat grows to a total length of 16 to 24 inches and can weigh up to 4 pounds.
Muskrats are found mostly in marshes, but also lives in other types of wetlands such as swamps and in ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. They prefer shallow areas with 4 to 6 feet of water. Muskrats will build a dome-shaped lodge of mud and marsh plants on top of tree stumps in shallow water. Lodges can be up to 3 feet tall and have one or more underwater entrances. Occasionally, muskrats will burrow into stream banks to create a den. Mostly nocturnal, muskrats can occasionally be seen swimming or sunning on a log during the day.
Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The muskrat feeds mostly on the roots and rhizomes of marsh plants, especially cattails and rushes, but will also eat fish, frogs, insects and shellfish. It consumes about one-third of its weight every day. It will build separate feeding lodges or platforms so it can get out of the water and eat.
Muskrats have many predators, including minks, raccoons, owls, hawks, red foxes and bald eagles. Humans hunt muskrats for meat, fur and sport. To hide from predators, they dive underwater or into their lodge.
Breeding occurs frequently throughout most of the year. Muskrats nest in chambers inside their lodges. Females have 1 to 3 litters of 5 to 6 young (called kits) each year. Gestation lasts less than one month. Young are born blind. Within 10 days young can swim, and within 21 days they can eat plants. After one month, the female ejects her now-independent young from the lodge. Muskrats can live 3 to 4 years in the wild.