Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's a RAT, it's a BEAVER, it's NEITHER!

In the Algonquin language it was known as musquash. To early colonists it had an unusual scent and looked like the Norway Rats they were so familiar with in Europe.  Musky smelling rat - musquash - MUSKRAT!  Actually it is more closely related to the vole than to the other two rodents. The muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) has been referred to as an aquatic vole in some papers. While sporting webbed hind feet like a beaver, musquash weighs in at a slight 2 to 4 pounds.  Females can start breeding at 8 months old and give birth to 4 to 8 young at a time.  The gestation period for muskrats is only about 1 month giving them the potential to create large numbers of cattail eaters in a short period of time.  While muskrats are hugely beneficial to wetlands by eating large quantities of aquatic vegetation they are not strictly vegetarian as beavers are.  The muskrat diet also consists of frogs, crayfish, mussels, frogs and slow moving fish.  The pictured muskrat was eating the newly emerged shoots of reed canary grass along Branning Road, near the Little River, at the end of March.  The muskrat seemed unconcerned as I spent several minutes taking his pictures and at one point waddled across the road and went beneath my Jeep until he thought better of the idea and scooted back to his lunch at the side of the road.