Muskrats in Winter
As we travel around the region during the winter, all those marshes look pretty lonely and abandoned. There is, however, a lot of activity going on down there in the watery world below the lid of ice. All those muskrat mounds should be a reminder of that activity.
As most everyone knows, muskrats are freshwater rodents that, although not true rats, have a tail that resembles that of a rat. They are also known for their strong smelling musk that is used to mark territories. So muskrats they are.
Muskrats remain quite active throughout the winter months, and they apparently do not cache food. As a result, they must continue to feed on the stems and roots of cattails, bulrushes and other aquatic plants throughout the winter months.
Those muskrat mounds or lodges that are so characteristic of our marshes are, of course, composed of plant material, usually cattails, and mud. The walls are thick, and provide good insulation for the family unit that will occupy the small living chamber slightly above the water surface. Entry to the watery world below is accomplished through one or two openings leading downward.
Many among us have also probably noticed the muskrat’s “push-ups” on area marshes as well. These push-ups are constructed around ice-up in the fall when a muskrat will clear a small area of ice and cover it, and some adjacent ice with a bunch of submerged vegetation. A small dome like structure is formed that is just large enough for one muskrat to utilize as a well protected feeding platform and resting place.
Whether it is winter or summer, it would seem quite difficult for muskrats to get at those tubers and other plant parts without constantly swallowing water, choking, and coughing. However, unlike most other mammals, a muskrat’s incisors protrude well out in front of their cheeks. As a result, they can still chew on material with their incisors even though their mouth is closed.
Some of you may remember the music of Captain and Tennille from the 1970’s. Their “Muskrat Love” has the dubious distinction of occasionally being cited among the worst compositions of the 1970’s pop charts. I disagree! I liked it! And most every time I see a muskrat mound I start singing that old song about “Muskrat Susie, Muskrat Sam.” Here it goes again!
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
Listen To Radio Online
Log-on and dig deep into the news of the day. It’s all online in our Public NewsRoom.» Visit the Public NewsRoom
Your contributions make quality radio programming possible.» Pledge your support today.