Wild Things: A Little Love for the Muskrat

Muskrats are semiaquatic rodents that are quite common in DuPage County but often mistaken for beavers. Like beavers, muskrats have brownish red fur and live in or near water and build lodges in the water. But you’re more likely to spot a muskrat than a beaver, according to Abby Dean, a naturalist at the District’s Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center in Oak Brook.

Muskrats typically are 16 ‒ 28 inches long and weigh between two and five pounds, compared to beavers, which are typically 40 ‒ 52 inches long and weigh more than 60 pounds. And while they both build lodges, muskrat lodges are built of cattails and bulrushes and look like haystacks in the water. Beaver lodges are built of sticks and logs. Muskrats will build a main lodge and several nearby feeding lodges, whereas beavers usually have only one lodge. Both may also burrow into stream bank.

Muskrats have hairless skinny tails like a rat, while beavers have hairless flat wide tails. Muskrats do not cache food like beavers and therefore must forage for food daily. Muskrat food is generally in the water, whereas beavers are more likely to go out of the water to get big pieces of wood.

And while some consider beavers a nuisance animal because they destroy trees and dam up rivers, muskrats are considered beneficial because they create open spaces along waterways for other animals to live in, such as ducks and frogs. “Some consider them a keystone species because their behavior modifies the environment for the better,” Dean said.

Dean talks more about muskrats on Wild Things on WDCB Radio (90.9 FM).  


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