Walking the Canal Towpath as well as a few large ponds, it’s easy to observe the activities of a medium-sized mammal – the Muskrat. The Muskrat is not really a rat, but it is a rodent. It has thick brown fur and a long, scaly tail. They can grow up to two feet long (with tail). Their back feet are webbed for swimming, and their eyes and ears are very small.
Muskrats build a house, called a lodge, out of aquatic plants, especially cattails. It can be up to eight feet across and five feet high. A Muskrat lodge looks a lot like a Beaver lodge. Muskrats also burrow holes in stream or pond banks. When a Muskrat builds a lodge, it helps a lot of animals besides itself. Lodges can also be the home of snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, and waterfowl.
When Muskrats eat large numbers of cattails, they open up areas of shallow water. This provides nest sites for water birds, and allows other water plants to grow.
Muskrats are excellent swimmers and can stay under water for 15 minutes. Their tails are used to steer, and they can swim forwards and backwards. They can even chew food underwater.