Muskrat lives up to half its name

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Similar to the beaver but much smaller, the muskrat is a creature of the water. On land this short-legged animal is easy prey for mink, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, owls, hawks and eagles.

True to its name, the muskrat does have musk-producing sent glands near the base of its tail. The musk is rubbed on objects partly submerged in or near water to "mark" the muskrat's home territory.

The muskrat, however, is not a rat. It is larger than a rat and, although it is a rodent, it belongs to a subfamily of rodents including hamsters and lemmings.

Historically muskrats have been trapped for their fur, which was fabricated into warm winter coats and caps. Today this is an industry of little importance.

Muskrats are nocturnal animals that eat aquatic vegetation. They are native to most of North America. Probably the most negative aspect of the muskrat is its ability to ruin small ponds by digging den holes into earthen levees. This may cause the levee to fail during times of heavy rain. Roads built near waterways where muskrats live may also be undermined.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at The Painted Wren Art Gallery, 5H N. Main St.

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