Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

November 18, 2008

A Clean ‘Rat on a Cloudy Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:49 am

 Everything about the November marsh was leaden and still today. A gray clouded sky issued sprinklings of granular snow but there was little wind to move the flakes about. The still water reflected the neutral shade of the sky above like polished metal. Any signs of life were welcome additions to this otherwise 2-D black & white photo-scape. A single muskrat provided that sign on this afternoon.

  The muskrat in question was engaged in a typically repetitious cycle of eating, swimming, and cleaning. It was so thoroughly engaged that it chose to pay very little attention to me. The creature knew I was watching it but ignored me as best it could. Even after a loud sneeze on my part sent it into a panic dive it quickly resumed its activity which was, like I said, eating, swimming, and cleaning. This is what November ‘rats do when they are not sleeping.

  I filmed the little guy doing his stuff (see above). His primary concern was a clump of cattails that had an exposed section of rhizomes at its base. Although all the upper leaves were dead, the underground stems and buds held the promised of starchy nutrition and some greenery. He repeatedly returned to the clump to chew away at the base, pull off sections of the rhizome, or nip off fresh shoots. After ripping off a mouthful of goodness he would bob back into the water and propel himself a short distance away to eat it. His dining spot was a carefully chosen spot about three body lengths distant.

  The eating process consisted of a series of skillful manipulations that amounted to peeling away the outer layers in order to get at the succulent core. His monkey-like dexterity was accomplished with nimble little four toed paws – each of which is equipped with pseudo thumb for leverage- and some carefully placed bites.  Watch this short video of the process (see Feeding Time) and you’ll get an idea of what I am talking about. Run this thing over and over again for the better part of a half hour and you’ll also get a sense of what I saw and of the critter’s dogged single mindedness. 

 So far I have covered the swimming and eating part. Now comes the cleaning part. Muskrats are among the most fastidious mammals you will ever meet when it comes to grooming. Every third or forth round trip on this day was punctuated with a bout of washing, primping, scratching, and stroking.  I’d explain it to you further, but feel that this video segment says it all (see Grooming Sequence here). I actually edited down this scene because, even though I know you’d be riveted by watching the full two minutes of this preening session, the photo site simply can’t hold that much excitement.  Perhaps someday I’ll release the full director’s cut, but for now this segment will have to do.

  A muskrat washes itself like a giant field mouse. The resemblance is to be expected because the two are closely related.  All this attention is necessary to keep the outer guard hairs water repellent and the dense woolly underfur fluffy and dry. Yes, the creature remained dry even though it was constantly going for a dip. A marvelous little aquatic creation this one – a well fed little chap on the inside and a clean one on the outside (see here).

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress