Classification: Fur Bearing Wildlife Species
Status: Very abundant. One of the most important fur animals in North America. Can cause damage to dikes by burrowing. Very valuable fur animal. Official Montana furbearer managed and protected by regulated fur harvest seasons.
Identifying Characteristics: Muskrats are large voles adapted to aquatic conditions. The name muskrat is related to odoriferous secretions from the perineal glands. The long naked tail flattened laterally distinguishes muskrats from other mammals. Webbed hind feet. Fur is dense and rich brown and a coarse guard hair overlay and thick waterproof underlayer. Color varies from dark brown to black.
Total length: 16 to 26 inches. Weight: 2 to 4 pounds.
Habitat: The most widespread of North American microtine (a subfamily of mice) rodents. Marshes, edges of ponds, lakes, streams, cattails, and rushes are typical habitats. An essential habitat ingredient is water of sufficient depth or velocity to prevent freezing. The presence of herbaceous vegetation, both aquatic and terrestrial, is another essential ingredient. In general, has very flexible habitat requirements and often coexists in habitats used by beavers.
Food Habits: Primarily herbivorous and will eat virtually any vegetable matter. Utilizes shoots, roots, bulbs, and leaves of aquatic plants. Cattails and bulrush are preferred foods. Will also consume cultivated crops. On occasion will eat animal matter. Food is stored in the burrow or den and during winter may even eat part of its own lodge.
Life History: May be thought of as an overgrown subaquatic vole. Mostly active at night but daytime activity is not unusual. Often builds conspicuous dome-shaped houses. Breeds during spring and summer. 5 or 6 young are born after a 22 to 30 gestation. May have two or three litters per year.
Similar Species: Beaver - has large dorsally flattened scale over tail.
The muskrat is a common and valuable furbearer. Muskrats are widely distributed throughout North America. This species can adapt to a wide variety of climates. Muskrats are dependent upon habitats including water. This species thrives in many lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds, and marshes. Muskrats can tolerate a certain amount of pollution in water, and this important furbearer is often found living within large cities.