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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Monday, March 12, 2018

"Our common Muskrat is a large rodent(up to 2 pounds) found nearly everywhere across the USA and Canada(none in Florida, parts of the southwest, Southern California and northern Alaska) where there are ponds, rivers, streams, marshes, swamps and canals"............"Armed with a thick coat of fur under its guard fur that is waterproof, they optimize their chances of surviving the most severe Winter weather inside dome-shaped mounds of marsh plants or create a riverbank burrow for shelter"........... "On the Muskrat menu are.cattails, sedges, rushes, water lilies, pond weeds, clams, mussels, snails, crayfish, small fish and frogs"........."They can dive underwater for up to 15 minutes to gather plants because their heart rate decreases and they draw oxygen from stores in muscle tissue"............It's a good thing that the female Muskrat can have up to five litters of up to 9 youngsters annually as they are a desireable dinner item for Wolves, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Lynx. Bobcats, Foxes, Fishers, Mink, Otters, Black Bears, Snakes, Snapping Turtles, Hawks, Owls, Pike and Largemouth Bass

In Homes on Ice, Muskrats Endure the Season

In Homes on Ice, Muskrats Endure the Season
Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol
In early March, when many cold-weary souls head south for a late winter respite, others spend their days in toasty ice-fishing shacks on still-frozen ponds and on the bays of quiet rivers.
They have company: In the midst of some of these avid anglers are muskrats, who have their own winter retreats — dome-shaped mounds of marsh plants that cover holes in the ice.  Inside these shelters the dark-brown rodents feed and rest during weather that would discourage the most hardened winter-sport enthusiasts.
Humans use gas-powered augers to drill holes in the ice; muskrats use their teeth. They gnaw four- to five-inch diameter holes and push marsh plants up through the ice to form their mound shacks.  Then they chew out the interior to create a place to eat, rest and catch a breath of air after swimming under the ice.

Muskrat territory(green shaded)

But just as human anglers have regular homes, muskrats have their own year-around homes. In river ecosystems they often live in burrowed bank dens, but in marshes their more-permanent lodges are constructed of plants, such as cattails, and mud. These houses rest on a firm base—the marsh bottom. Muskrats build these lodges by piling up the plants, then chewing out an opening and carefully layering much of the removed material to the top of the rising mound.

 Inside each house, which is about one and one-half to three-feet high, a family of three to five muskrats snuggles to stay warm.  If a lodge needs repairs, holes are patched with anything from water lily roots to frozen catfish pulled from the mud.

 Muskrats spend lots of time in their winter homes and their shacks — eating food from their autumn caches plus other marsh plants foraged under the ice.  They can dive for up to 15 minutes to gather plants because their heart rate decreases under water, and oxygen is drawn from stores in muscle tissue.  Thick, waterproof fur keeps them dry and warm.  Instead of being webbed like a beaver’s, the toes on their hind feet are fringed with stiff hairs, so they work like paddles. The muskrat’s long tail undulates to provide propulsion when the animal swims. The tail can be angled to act as a rudder.

Muskrat stream-side burrow hole

Muskrats are in many ways well adapted to survive the winter.  Diving muskrats can gather food without swallowing water because their lips seal shut behind the incisors.  Nimble front paws manipulate the roots of cattails, water lilies, arrowheads, pondweeds and other marsh plants.
Muskrats are large for a rodent.  Adults, weighing about two pounds and measuring roughly 20 inches from nose tip to the end of the 10-inch tail, make a tempting meal for various predators, such as minks, fox, weasels and marsh hawks.  Underwater predators include large northern pike, pickerel and snapping turtles.  To survive, muskrats are mostly active at night and during the hours of dawn and dusk. They aren’t strict vegetarians; they will eat fish, clams, crayfish, frogs and snails.

Muskrat Domed Burrow

Winter can be treacherous. Paul Errington, the renowned hunter, trapper and wildlife biologist, recorded dramatic moments in muskrat lives in his landmark book, “Of Men and Marshes.” He mentions a morning encounter: “The whole top of the lodge shell is open, empty of muskrats, and powdered by the trace of snow.  A mink-killed muskrat lies smeared with blood on the ice, and a drag trail represents another victim.” 
So it can be bloody out there on the ice. Half of the muskrat population can die by mid-winter.  Sometimes during cold snaps the openings to their push-up lodges freeze shut, closing off opportunities for oxygen and nourishment.  As winter progresses, competition for food intensifies, forcing muskrats to venture out into the open, where they can succumb to cold or predation.
When spring finally arrives, the muskrat winter camps collapse during “ice-out.”  But by then, the muskrats are traveling about on land, depositing a powerful scent along their routes to denote their territory. They also mate.

In early spring the adults kick the previous autumn’s youngsters out of the house.  Then, in April or May, about a month after mating, a new litter is born. Around mid-summer, these little muskrats are driven away to make room for a second litter.  And by the time the ice-fishing shacks appear again, adult muskrats, along with the late-summer crop of young, will be hunkered down in their own winter homes and shanties.
Michael J. Caduto is an author, ecologist and storyteller who lives in Chester, Vt.

Common Muskrat - 

Ondatra zibethicus 

Life Cycle

 Phylum: Chordata
 Class: Mammalia
 Order: Rodentia
 Family: Muridae
 Genus: Ondatra

ICUN Redlist - World Status: Least Concern Least Concern

The muskrat is a large rodent that is is about a
 foot to two feet long. It has a stocky body, a
 rounded head and a long, scaly black tail that
 is 7 to 12 inches long. Its tail is laterally
 flattened, that means it is flattened
vertically! Its tail works like a rudder
 and helps the muskrat maneuver in
the water! It has thick, soft, glossy,
 reddish-brown to dark brown fur
 on its uppersides and paler fur on
 its undersides.

Coyote with a Muskrat meal

 It has a thick coat of fur under its guard
 fur that is waterproof. It may also have
a white patch of fur under its chin and a
 darker patch of fur on its nose. The
 muskrat has small eyes and tiny ears.
 It has short legs and small front feet.
Its rear feet are larger and slightly
 webbed. It gets its name from the
 two musk glands on its rear under
its tail.
The muskrat is found from northern
 North America south to the Mexican
border. It is not found in parts of
 California, Florida, and Texas.

Mink with a Muskrat meal

The muskrat is found in swamps, marshes,
 rivers, ponds, lakes, drainage ditches and
canals. It prefers an environment with four
 to six feet of still or slow-moving water and
 plants like cattails, pondweeds, bulrushes
 and sedges. It needs open travel channels
in the water so it can move around easily.
In marsh environments, the muskrat builds
 a dome-shaped lodge of plants. The lodge
 can be five feet across and four feet high
and has an inner chamber with more than
 one underwater entry hole. In some cases,
 the muskrat may build separate lodges for
feeding and nesting! In other habitats like
 rivers, creeks, drainage ditches and canals,
 the muskrat creates a bank burrow for
shelter. The burrow consists of a tunnel
 and a nesting chamber. There is usually
an underwater entrance to the burrow.

 Great Horned Owl with a Muskrat meal

The muskrat can close its mouth around
 its protruding teeth and chew underwater!
 The muskrat eats aquatic vegetation like
 cattails, sedges, rushes, water lilies and
 pond weeds. In some areas it also eats
clams, mussels, snails, crayfish, small
 fish and frogs. The muskrat doesn't eat
 its food where it finds it, it usually drags
its food out to a feeding platform in the
 water or a feeding station near one of
 its travel paths. These feeding platforms
are made of mud and vegetation. It can
 then eat its food without worrying about
predators! The muskrat is crepuscular,
that means it is most active at dawn,
dusk and at night.

 Red Fox with Muskrat meal

  Life Cycle
In the southern part of its range the muskrat
 may breed year-round. In the northern parts
 of its range mating season runs from March
 through August. The female muskrat may
have up to five litters a year. Male muskrats
compete for females. The female gives birth
 to two to nine young. The young are covered
with fur at birth and their eyes are closed.
They can swim when they are about ten days
 old and begin to eat vegetation when they
 are about 20 days old. They are fully weaned
when they are about a month old. They leave
their mother after weaning and establish their
 own territory. They mate when they are about
 a year old. The average lifespan of a muskrat
 in the wild is three or four years.

Red-Tailed hawk with Muskrat meal

The muskrat is a very good swimmer and
 can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes.
 It uses its tail and webbed feet to propel itself
through the water and can swim both forwards
 and backwards!

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