- Size: About 25 to 40 cm long (excluding the tail)
- Color: Dark brown or blackish
- Appearance: Long vertically flattened tail, webbed feet
- Attractions: Proximity to water for habitat, aquatic vegetation for food, banks for digging burrows
- Detection Element: Burrows near water, tracks in the mud
The muskrat, a semi-aquatic mammal, is distinguished by its unique appearance. With a length varying between 40 and 70 cm, of which the tail constitutes about half, this animal has dense and brown fur, which can turn dark or reddish depending on the season. Its long, vertically flattened tail is a distinctive feature, used as a rudder when swimming. Its webbed hind feet make it particularly suited to aquatic life. Small eyes and ears, a pointed muzzle, and prominent incisors complete its profile, making it easily identifiable.
Habitat in Quebec
In Quebec, the muskrat establishes its habitat in various aquatic environments, such as marshes, ponds, lakes, and rivers. These animals prefer areas with an abundance of aquatic vegetation, which serves as both food and material for building their huts or burrows. Muskrat huts, constructed with mud, aquatic plants, and reeds, often emerge above the water, creating visible islets. In winter, they can also dig burrows in the banks, using tunnels under the snow to move discreetly.
The behavior of the muskrat reflects its adaptation to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. An excellent swimmer, it moves effortlessly in water, diving to feed on aquatic plants, and can remain submerged for up to 17 minutes. This animal is primarily nocturnal, though it can occasionally be active during the day. In winter, it continues to be active under the ice, feeding on accumulated reserves or aquatic vegetation. Socially, muskrats are rather solitary, except during the breeding season, when they can be more territorial.
Distinguishing the Muskrat from Other Small Animals
While the rat may resemble the muskrat in terms of size and general shape, it has notable differences. The rat has a longer and less thick tail, and its fur is generally smoother and less suited to water. Rats are more adapted to urban or terrestrial environments, unlike the muskrat, which prefers aquatic environments. Rat droppings are longer, thinner, and more regular in shape compared to those of the muskrat, which are larger and more irregular.
The groundhog, significantly larger than the muskrat, is easily identifiable by its robust stature and thick fur. Unlike the muskrat, it does not live in aquatic habitats and does not have a flattened tail or webbed feet. The groundhog is a terrestrial animal that digs burrows in the ground. Its droppings are larger and elongated compared to those of the muskrat, which are smaller and less regular in shape.