Muskrat or Musquash (Ondatra zibethicus) - Wiki
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The Muskrat or Musquash (Ondatra zibethicus), the only species in genus Ondatra, is a large aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe. Adult body length is usually between 25-40 cm long, with a strong, laterally compressed tail 20-25 cm long. The body is covered in thick, brown waterproof fur; the underparts are paler. In brackish waters of New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia the black muskrat lives with brown muskrats. They have partially webbed hind feet and small able hand-like front feet. The weight is up to 1700 g, about four times the weight of a Brown Rat.
Swamp Bunny is a nickname for a Muskrat. It is commonly used in the Mid-Atlantic States, especially in the marsh-lands and rivers surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.
Muskrats live in wetlands: ponds, lakes, marshes and river banks, hence the nickname "swamp bunny". They are very good swimmers, using their tail for propulsion in the water. They are found in Alaska, Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. Extensive burrow systems are dug in the ground adjacent to the water with an underwater entrance. In marshes, lodges are constructed from cattails and mud. They also build feeding platforms in wetlands. It is common to find Muskrats living in beaver lodges, too. Muskrats help maintain open areas in marshes, which helps to provide habitat for aquatic birds.
These animals are most active at night or near dawn and dusk. They feed on cattails and other aquatic vegetation, freshwater mussels, frogs, crayfish and small turtles. Their predators include mink, foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx and large owls. They are also trapped for their fur and, in some communities, for their meat.
The male muskrat marks his territory with a strong musky secretion which gives this animal its name. Females have 2 to 3 litters of 6 to 8 young. Muskrat populations appear to go through a regular pattern of rise and dramatic decline spread over a 6 to 10 year period.
While much wetland habitat has been eliminated due to human activity, new muskrat habitat has been created by the construction of canals or irrigation channels and the muskrat remains common and wide-spread.
They are able to live alongside streams which contain the sulphurous water that drains away from coal mines. Fish and frogs perish in such streams, yet muskrats may thrive and occupy the wetlands.
Muskrats have two unique adaptations that help with survival. The first is the shape of their nostrils. They look like the number seven. The shape of the nostrils allows muskrats to inhale remaining oxygen from recently exhaled breath. This allows for muskrats to swim under water for up to 15 minutes. The other adaptation has to do with how the muskrat got its name. Muskrats are named because of the musk glands located near the underside of their tail. These secretions are used to warn other muskrats when a territory is already occupied. Keeping other muskrats away cuts down on competition for food and mates and aids in the muskrat's survival.
European countries such as Belgium and The Netherlands consider the muskrat to be a pest that must be exterminated. Therefore the animal is hunted to keep the population down. The muskrat is considered a pest because its burrowing causes damage to dykes and levees.
Muskrat trapping is a sport and income producing activity in the northern hemisphere. In the U.S., muskrat hunting is largely restricted to the northernmost states. To trap a muskrat one must find a body of water with a reasonable quantity of muskrats huts. Muskrats live in huts made of canes. The trapper uses an axe to chop out a plug from the hut and places a trap in the hut. He leaves and returns 4-12 hours later to often find a muskrat in the trap. Success rate is about 50%.
Many people who have muskrats in their ponds (especially dammed ponds) dislike muskrats because they burrow into dams and levees, eventually causing structural problems. Therefore muskrats are hunted year-round to control their numbers, although it is difficult to do so effectively since they breed so rapidly. Often traps are set to catch them, in addition to hunting by .22 caliber rifle. Traps are set in late autumn to early spring depending upon the length of the trapping season set by each state. Muskrats trapped in the winter and spring have the best fur. Prime pelts are determined by the yellowish skin color during drying. Muskrats caught in early autumn have dark or black skin when dried. Traps such as leg hold traps, body gripping traps or cage traps are placed in run ways or in front of dens to their lodges or bank dens. Apples, carrots or gland lure is used to attract the muskrat to the trap. Leghold traps sizes 1 or 1 1/2 are used or 110 Conibear. Wire is attached to the trap so when the muskrat is caught , it swims out to deeper water and drowns. This is because if the muskrat does not drown it can twist its foot out of the trap or break a leg and get away. In winter traps are set below the ice in front of den entrances, which are found by bubble trails under the ice or stirred up mud seen under the ice. Traps are checked each day, any muskrat that has been caught is removed and the trap reset. Muskrats are skinned as "cased" and the skin is slid over a steel wire fur stretched with the fur facing to the inside of the stretcher. Fat is scraped off the skin, which takes about a week to dry and then can be sold.
In Belgium and The Netherlands, killed animals are sometimes sold to restaurants and served as waterkonijn (water rabbit).
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