It's a changing world

     Muskrats have adapted in several ways to be able to survive in their aquatic habitat. They are experts when it comes to swimming. Muskrats are able to maneuver around in the water very quickly and with ease by using their webbed hind feet to propel themselves and their tails  to aid in steering, as seen in several videos in my Photo Gallery. Another interesting adaptation is their ability to swim both forwards and backwards which also enhances their mobility in their aquatic habitat. They also possess an amazing ability that makes it possible for them live well in their niche. This adaptation gives them the ability to “breathe” underwater for up to about fifteen minutes at a time. Their bodies have the ability to transport oxygen from other tissues in their bodies to the rest of their body. They also can reduce the amount of oxygen their body needs while underwater by just relaxing. This method works well because when they are at rest or not moving their body does not require as much oxygen to be transported to contracting muscles.

     Another significant adaptation muskrats have is the ability to respond quickly when they feel threatened and can’t easily evade the threat. They are excellent burrowers and can dig a hole in the soft soil near the edge of the water and sometimes end up creating a short tunnel that opens up to the soil just above the water line. If they are practiced in this evasion technique they can even create a cloud of mud under the water to camouflage their exit by kicking up enough mud as they are burrowing. This enables them to make a quick escape and also leave their threat, like a predator, confused as to where they went.

     Muskrats have also gained the ability to gnaw and chew underwater. Their incisors are placed in front of their cheeks, which enables them to eat or cut up the submerged roots and stems of  vegetation found in their habitat, some of which are listed on my Nutrition page. All of these adaptations allow muskrats to forage during the winter which means that they don’t have to store food during the summer and fall months for winter and early spring. During the winter when ice covers everything muskrats are even able to break through the ice if it is thin enough, and surface to look for food during hard times. They are a very hardy species, however and can live in very undesirable conditions.
     During the winter months and when ice is present, muskrats will share their lodge with several other muskrats including their growing pups and possibly their mate or other family members. The air quality inside of the lodge can become quite disgusting because of the lack of ventilation and the increased amount of time spent inside it compared to the months where ice is not present. However this is not a problem for muskrats and it does not appear to have an effect on their well being. Their ability to adapt to many different situations also makes it possible for them live in a variety of habitats. All of these adaptations have allowed muskrats to prosper for so long, even in seemingly undesirable habitats. See my Habitat and Geography page to learn more about the different types of habitats muskrats can occupy!

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