The North American wild is full of little furry critters that just love to go in and out of your backyard and cause trouble. If you live in the countryside, it’s especially annoying since you have many animals to contend with. While most are not pests, they can be quite annoying especially if they start encroaching on your personal property. Take, for instance — the muskrat.
Muskrats are medium-sized semi-aquatic rodents that are commonly found in North America and have been introduced to several areas in Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is mostly at home in states and places where there are a lot of wetlands, but it can be a very successful animal in a wide range of climates and habitats. For a long time now, the muskrat has long been recognized as an important part of the human colony because it is a resource of food and fur. Despite their name, muskrats are not true rats since they are not members of the genus Rattus but rather, Ondatra.
A muskrat is mostly identified by its short, thick fur that is medium to dark brown in color, with its belly being a tad bit lighter. Since muskrats mostly spend their time in the water, their fur has two layers that protect them from the cold water. Their tails are covered with scales instead of hair and are flattened to help them swim. Their tails also make tracking easier such as when they walk on solid land, and they use their tails to drag on the ground and leave a distinct mark.
Behavior and Benefits
Like beavers, muskrats build lodges to protect themselves from the cold and from predators. These lodges are usually made of vegetation and mud. Usually, these lodges are swept away in spring floods so muskrats have to replace them every year. The muskrats also make extensive burrow systems that are usually dug underground adjacent to the water, with an underwater entrance, as well as build feeding platforms in wetlands.
Many Native Americans have considered muskrats important food resources. Their meat has been described as something similar to rabbits or ducks. They are also an important food resource for many other animals such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, eagles, and bears. Elks and caribou also benefit from the vegetation that usually make up the muskrat’s lodge in times when food is scarce for them.
Aside from food, muskrats are also a good source of fur. Muskrat fur is very warm and of good quality and in the early 20th century, muskrat trapping for fur became an important industry, especially in the state of Louisiana. They were specially trimmed and dyed and became known as “hudson seal fur” in the United States.
When You Have To Get Rid of Them…
With all the benefits people can get from muskrats, why then do you need to get rid of them? In some places such as Belgium and the Netherlands, they are considered pests because their burrowing causes damage to the dikes and levees that these countries depend on for flood protection.
If you have a farm or fish pond, muskrats can lower their water level by building a tunnel from the side of the pond to a nearby ditch. They also open up veins underneath a clay base. Their burrowing can also cause unstable ground in your pond area. So what do you have to do to get rid of them?
- Disrupt their food source. Muskrats rely on several aquatic vegetation and small animals to stay comfortable in an area. If your pond or place has lush vegetation composed of cattails, water lilies, sedges, and pond weeds, then you may want to clear these up. Doing so will disrupt their diet and hopefully cause them to seek “greener” pastures. You can use chemicals to get rid of these plants or you can opt for the safe but more tedious way and take them out manually.
- Change your pond environment. Muskrats prefer ponds with water depths of at least four to six feet with water that is still or slow-moving. While there’s little you can do about changing the depth of your pond, you can add an aeration system instead. The system pumps air from a compressor located on the shore to a diffuser plate on the pond’s bottom. The induction of air through the diffuser causes a continual current to circulate through the entire pond. The system also controls the formation of weeds that muskrats feed on.
- Put up a fence around the pond area. Fencing is probably the most effective way of deterring or preventing muskrats from ever visiting your ponds. Make sure that it is at least two feet high and six inches deep so they won’t be able to burrow under. The only downside to fencing is that it can get pretty expensive, especially if your pond area is big.
- Put up traps. You can also try trapping muskrats. You can purchase animal traps in hunting stores. Bait the traps with apples and peanut butter. If you catch a muskrat and you want to relocate it, make sure to do so at least one mile from your area.
Muskrats are useful animals but can become pests when there are too many of them. Trap or change the environment — it’s all up to you.
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