Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interesting Animals: Muskrat

A muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

In honor of Big Wet Rodent Day (recognized mainly in Canada), I'm featuring the muskrat as an interesting animal! Most people think that muskrats and those other large semi-aquatic rodents are mundane creatures, but they are, in fact, quite interesting animals.

Like all rodents, these creatures have sharp, overlapping incisors that are very effective chewing devices. Muskrats build lodges that look not unlike beaver lodges, though smaller. Muskrats also look not unlike small beavers, though they have a more cylindrical tail. Marshes are ideal habitat for these rodents. They are commonly hunted for their fur, which is very dense and will trap air so that cold water will not touch their skin and also to make them more buoyant. They also have altered blood flow going to their tail and feet, which helps keep their core body temperature stable.

Muskrats live in family groups, and when it becomes too crowded, mothers will kick their offspring out; fighting an cannibalism are not unknown. The term "muskrat" refers to the fact that they communicate via musk though they also squeak and squeal. They have poor senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Though mainly vegetarians, they will also consume animals. They are excellent swimmers.

Here's the Big Wet Rodent Day Song! Happy July 26th, everyone.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license. Sources are Animal Diversity Web and the National Trappers Association

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