Another nature walk and another muskrat sitting in the bath going to town with its vegetables. It seems that every time I come across muskrats they seem to be eating. Maybe they are just more conspicuous when they are eating…, or maybe they are just always eating, just like human teenagers. I imagine one would have to chomp down quite a bit of vegetables to get your daily nutrient requirements. Just like me, muskrats are facultative herbivores which means that they prefer to eat plants but, if necessary, can also consume animal such as fish, frogs and insects. The other day as I was out by a lake with some young ones we spotted a muskrat swimming around and, too my surprise, not eating (but it was probably looking for food). When the kids saw it they immediately identified it as a beaver. To be entirely honest, the first time I saw a muskrat I also mistook it for a beaver. The muskrat is like the lesser known cousin of the superstar beaver in that everyone recognizes a beaver (even if they have never seen one) while few people recognizes the muskrat (even if you might be looking at one). Perhaps the easiest way to tell these semi-aquatic rodents apart, particularly if it is your first time seeing one, is the tail. Beaver with its tell-tale flat and paddle-shaped tail while the muskrat has a long, skinny tail with flat sides. If you can see the tail there really is no way of mis-identifying a muskrat for a beaver. In the picture below you can clearly see the long skinny tail of the muskrat. Once you become a more seasoned muskrat aficionado you realize that there are a few other distinguishing characteristics as well. Perhaps the most obvious difference (if you know about it) is the size difference. Beavers are huge weighing in at between 35 and 60 pounds while muskrats are puny in comparison topping out at about 4 pounds. Another difference is that with muskrats you can usually see its whole body when it is swimming while with beavers you typically only see their large wedge-shaped head. While I have not seen a beaver at the creek for a while the musk rats are out in full force.
Muskrats are medium-sized rodents, almost like a mini-beaver, but with a rat-like tail instead of the big paddle tail of the beaver. They are basically large field mice adapted to life in water. They have a groovy dental adaptation allowing them to chew with their mouths closed. Their front teeth protrude ahead of the checks and lips allowing them to chew food under water while their mouth technically remains closed. I found this fella in a shallow pond at Elk Island National Park sitting in waist-deep (by muskrat standards) water munching on his breakfast consisting of aquatic plants. He seemed quite hungry as he was really going to town with his veggies and did not seemed bother with my presence, even when I pulled out and assembled my large tripod. Below is a short video clip of his energetic chewing. The video almost looks like it has been sped up, but it’s a regular speed. Let’s call the muskrat Spikey after his spiky and funky hairdo. So, as I was saying, it is not the video that has been sped up, but rather, it is Spikey that is living his (her) life in the fast lane.
A few weeks ago, as the ice on the creek still was breaking up, we came across this fuzzy Muskrat sitting on a muddy back grooming himself. I imagine it must have just woken up from the long winter hibernation and was doing his “spring cleaning” of the fur. Muskrats are often found in association with beavers, and indeed, further down on the same muddy bank there were two adult beavers Also busy grooming themselves. While both Muskrats and beavers are rodents, they are not particularly closely related. Contrary to what the name suggests, Muskrats are not a species of rat. It’s closest relative are mice, voles and lemmings. It is basically a large field mouse adapted to an aquatic life. I was on the opposite side of the creek when I spotted it. Over the next few minutes I managed to slowly sneak through the vegetation until I was at the water’s edge right across from it, no more than 10 m away. While the both the Muskrat and the beavers must have known I was there, they completely ignored me and just minded their own business. While I have seen Muskrats before, this was the first time I have been able to study one this closely for an extended period.
May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling). Copyright Mario Pineda.
Today is the first day of spring and all the signs are here; the creeks and rivers are largely ice-free, the beavers at the Whitemud Creek have awoken from their winter hibernation and the buds are bursting.
During my nature walk along the Whitemud Creek the other day the beavers were out in full force, swimming around in the slurry waters, breaking through ice floes like fury little ice breakers and chilling on the banks with their friend, the muskrat. The onset of the seasonal changes is sudden and things are changing fast. Just a week ago my son and I walked on the frozen creek, meeting people on skis and walking their dogs. Today the creek is virtually ice free. I am super-excited about the upcoming return of the migratory birds, but a bit sad that I have to bid farewell to the Snowy Owls.
Officially Spring arrives at 3:58pm today (Spring Equinox). It is a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky and +11 °C. What better way to greet spring and all the the excitement it will bring about in nature than heading down to the creek. We will head down for a first spring nature walk as soon as work and school is out.
May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling).