The muskrat is a semi-aquatic rodent that lives along waterways in Connecticut. Native Americans and early settlers used muskrats as a source of food and fur but had little influence on population levels. The muskrat gets its name from its resemblance to a rat and from the musky odor that is produced by scent glands. With brown fur and partially webbed hind feet, the muskrat can look like a beaver. However, it has a long (8-11 inches) rat-like tail that is scaled, nearly hairless, and somewhat flattened on the sides. Muskrats are much smaller than beavers, measuring 18-25 inches long (including the tail) and weighing between 2-4 pounds. The head is broad and blunt with short ears barely visible above the fur. The muskrat’s coat is practically waterproof and is soft, dense, and grayish brown in color. The underfur is covered by long, brown guard hairs which serve to protect the soft underhair from wear. The muskrat is further adapted for its semi-aquatic life with lips that act as valves, closing behind the front incisors so it can actually gnaw underwater.
Muskrats generally inhabit wetlands with an abundant supply of aquatic vegetation, such as swamps, coastal and freshwater marshes, lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams. They feed primarily on aquatic plants, including cattails, sedges, water lilies, arrowheads, and duckweeds. Occasionally, they will eat crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects, and slow-moving fish.
Muskrats have a high reproductive rate, producing up to 3 litters per year, each with 6 to 7 young.They are polygamous and breeding takes place from late March through July. After a gestation period of 28 to 30 days, the young are born blind, helpless, and almost naked. The young are dependent on the female for about 30 days. They leave the den at about 6 weeks of age.
Muskrats live in or near water most of their lives. They make their homes in bank dens or lodges similar to those of the beaver but smaller in size. Muskrats excavate dens by burrowing into the banks of slow-moving streams with their sharp front claws. The dens are complete with dry chambers and underwater tunnels, and there are ventilation holes which are hidden at the surface by shrubs, branches, and thick vegetation. The lodges, constructed with aquatic plants, brush, and mud, are usually situated on a foundation of brush or a stump or are occasionally built up from the bottom of the wetland. Several small feeding huts that are similar to, but less complex than the lodges, may be constructed within the muskrat’s territory. Here, the animal will periodically feed while protected from predators and harsh weather.