Muskrat Facts

Muskrats are native to North America, with a range that extends from Canada to some northern parts of Mexico. They have also been introduced to Northern Europe, Asia, and South America, mainly for their valued pelts.

Muskrat Habitat

Muskrats are semi-aquatic mammals that inhabit areas abundant in water, such as wetlands, ponds, lakes and marshes.

For shelter, muskrats will either dig tunnels or construct lodges, depending on the immediate habitat. In areas with steep banks or dams, muskrats will dig tunnels that begin underwater and lead up above the water level, where the chamber can remain dry. In other areas without steep walls or dams, muskrats build dome-shaped lodges out of nearby vegetation and mud.

Trapping Tips

Determine Trap Placement

Position your trap in one of two ways:

Along a muskrat run: these are underwater paths muskrats use to travel back and forth to their dens or feeding platforms. The runs are distinct trails in the ground perpendicular to the shoreline.

Outside of a burrow entrance: the best place for your trap is directly outside of a muskrat burrow. A typical entrance is about 6 to 8 inches in diameter, most often located in a bank or outside wall of the waterway. Muskrat runs often lead to burrow entrances.

Bait Your Trap

Bait your muskrat trap with apples or starchy root vegetables.

Check Trap Often

Monitoring your trap is very important, because a muskrat can quickly become anxious, hungry and/or vulnerable to predation. Never leave a muskrat trap unattended for long periods of time.

Once Caught

Wear heavy gloves and hold the trap away from your body to avoid contact with the muskrat.

Approach the trap calmly to avoid startling the animal.

Drape a cloth or towel over the trap to keep the muskrat calm during transport.

If local laws permit, relocate your muskrat to another habitable wetland environment, at least 5 miles from your property.

Trivia

Muskrat damage occurs as a result of their burrowing habits. Damage is sometimes not obvious until severe destruction occurs, which is why it is important to understand how to identify muskrat burrows and other warning signs.

Signs of a muskrat's presence or damage include:

- muskrat tracks: four toes in front and five in the back with visible claws; visible tail mark in between prints

- muskrat droppings on dry, elevated surfaces such as stumps, logs, rocks or feeding platforms

- feeding platforms: elevated, flat pads of mud and vegetation

- lodges: piles of mud and aquatic vegetation, up to 8 feet in width and 5 feet tall

- muskrat burrow entrances: holes in backs or dams, about 6 to 8 inches in diameter and up to 3 feet below water level

- leaking ponds or dams due to burrowing

- collapsed banks due to extensive burrowing


Muskrat Diseases

Muskrats are carriers of some diseases that may be transmitted to humans and/or pets through a bite, drinking contaminated water, or coming into contact with muskrat flesh.

The most serious illnesses include:

- Tularemia via ticks, bites, contact with infected flesh and contaminated water

- Leptospirosis via contaminated, soil or contact with urine

- Giardiasis via contaminated water, contact with/ingestion of waste or ingestion of infected flesh

- Rabies via bites and contact with infected saliva

Activity Muskrats are active year-round, and they feed at all times of the day. They are most active at twilight.

Reproduction  Females give birth to 2-3 litters per year, each time yielding an average of 4-8 pups. The size of the litters varies with the seasons, with larger litters being born in spring and summer, and small litters being born in winter. In warmer months, muskrats can give birth to as many as 15 young at once. Newborn muskrats are weaned for about a year before they become independent.

Feeding Muskrats gather food within their territories and carry it to feeding platforms on which they eat. These feeding platforms are flat, elevated piles of mud and vegetation, which muskrats construct outside of their living dens.

Social Interaction As monogamous breeders, muskrats live with their mates and their young. They are very territorial - especially during breeding season.