The Muskrat of the BC coastal region
Muskrats inhabit swamps, marshes, lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams. The BC coast has a large population of muskrats. Where you see beavers, you will most likely see muskrats. They weigh up to 3 kg, are up to 65 cm long, with a tail that reaches up to 28 cm in length.
They feed primarily on aquatic plants, including: bull rushes, willows, and swamp grass. They occasionally eat crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects, and slow-swimming fish.
The muskrat is a large and strong, aquatic rodent. Its head is wide & short, with small ears. The muskrat’s coat is waterproof, silky, and brown in color. The underbelly is covered in long, brown, guard hairs to protect its underside. Its tail is scaled, almost rat-like, nearly hairless, and somewhat flattened on the sides. A muskrat has the ability to close its mouth with its teeth protruding, just like a beaver. This way, it can still gnaw on food while underwater.
Muskrats mate and reproduce up to 4 times a year, with each litter having 4 – 6 pups. Breeding takes place from late March through early July. The gestation period typically lasts 28 – 30 days. The young open their eyes within 12 -14 days, and by 8 weeks, they are completely weaned, independent of their mother.
Muskrats build their dens in the banks of slow-moving streams. These homes can be quite elaborate, with several entrances, ventilation holes, & dry rooms. Sometimes they will build small lodges, like beavers. These lodges are constructed with aquatic plants, brush, & mud, and are built on small floating islands or stumps.
Muskrats are active throughout the year, and, although mainly nocturnal, they are sometimes seen during the day. They are susceptible to cold & wind, and spend more time in their dens during winter. Several muskrats may share a lodge during winter time.