Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 16, 2010

Little ‘Rats in a Big World

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:30 pm

Never mind, for the moment, that 85% of muskrats born in any given year do not make it to their first birthday. In fact, nearly all of them will be dead by the end of their second year due to the effects of predation, disease, and a whole host of natural and un-natural grim reapers. It is clearly written on the tablet of life that Muskrats are born to die young (paragraph 3, line 2b). All this might seem a bit depressing from a human perspective, but muskrats are not human and do not dwell on such negative thoughts. They eat like there is no tomorrow and reproduce like rabbits to insure that there is a tomorrow.

A pair of muskrats, occupying a bank den adjacent to a local Lake Erie marsh, recently displayed their newest crop of little ones. There were three in evidence this past week and they were already on the verge of independence. Baby muskrats enter the world via the fast lane.  They are able to take in green food by their 21st day of life and are completely weaned within one month. I would imagine these micro muskrats were newly weaned individuals. Their mom (see below, totting a fresh alder cutting) was probably already well into her third pregnancy of the season – she definitely had that “gleam” in her eye. Her thoughts were already on the next generation.

About the size of a softball, these newly independent ratlets were in full possession of their adult traits – long tail, soft water-repellant hair, and luxuriant pink toe nails – although proportionally they had  quite a bit of re-adjusting to do. The rest of the body needs to catch up with the head and over-sized back feet, for instance (see below). It is doubtful that they will ever catch up with their appetites. Every time I came upon them they were eating and spent the whole time, while under observation, eating.

The food du Jour was equally divided between fresh cat-tail/reed cuttings and water plants. The cat-tails and reeds were deftly cut down in beaver fashion (see below and here). Each stalk was then sectioned and neatly peeled before eating.  Submerged water plants were simply shoveled into mouth as the creatures swam about the surface.  Take a look at this video and you’ll get a pretty good ida of what I\’m talking about. You may even get hungry watching it.

There is no doubt about it; these little fellows were certainly fun to watch. They were cute, fuzzy and active – thus fulfilling all the necessary requirements for adorableness (paragraph 83, line 6 in the book of life). The habit of raising the tail out of the water while eating is especially endearing, although adult muskrats do this as well (see below and here).

Admittedly, the only disturbing part about watching baby muskrats is that they are so easy to approach. Their ignorance borders on stupidity. There were only two times, over the course of three days, that I aroused their suspicions. Even a few throat clearings on my part didn’t do the trick. You’ll see in the video that a slight movement of the camera angle did cause one of the ‘rats to suddenly plunge into the water – leaving his partner wondering what the commotion was all about. The escapee, however, was back up in a minute and soon filling his face as if nothing happened. Had I been a hawk or a mink seeking easy prey, these observation sessions would have been much shorter. Oh well, let’s hope these baby muskrats are able to enjoy the world stage at least until the third act.


  1. In that video, is that puffy vegetation that the muskrat is swimming around and eating “coontail”? Will a family of muskrats help keep my pond coontail and cat-tail free? If so, will they stay out of my vegetable garden? I’m trying to convince my father-in-law that some muskrats in our pond would be a good thing for coontail and cat-tail control.

    Comment by callsign222 — June 18, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

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    Comment by Franklyn — July 15, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

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