Habitat and Geography:
Home Sweet Home

     Muskrats can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from marshes, river, streams, lakes,  ponds, and most other wetland habitats. Muskrats are very widely dispersed, and inhabit wetlands throughout Eastern United States and Canada. They can also be found now in parts of Europe and Asia since being brought over around the beginning of the twentieth century. Muskrats living in aquatic environments such as a marsh can be found near the shallow parts of the body of water living in constructed lodges and will almost always be in the water. They will only venture out of the water if it is necessary, such as moving to a new location for more food sources and room to reproduce.

     Suitable habitats for muskrats must contain slow moving water, aquatic and submergent vegetation for eating and building lodges, and a water depth of about two to four feet. The muskrats prefer slow moving water over fast moving water to build their lodges in and be able to swim around easily since they are primarily aquatic mammals. Submergent and aquatic vegetation is a necessary part of their habitat for muskrats to prosper because they serve as their primary source of food and materials for lodge building. These plants include: marsh bulrush, common cattail, common duckweed, pond lilies, and many other vegetation that can be found in their habitat. The depth of water is very important relative to the success of a population of muskrats. This is because if the water depth is too low (less than ~two feet) there will not be enough water to swim in to forage when the ice is frozen during winter and the beginning of spring. Also if the water levels are too high (more than ~five feet) such as during a flood, the submergent and aquatic vegetation that the muskrats are dependent on could possibly be replaced with a different plant species that would be able to live well in the deeper water.

     Muskrats build their own homes called lodges that look similar to beaver lodges. They are made  out of mostly emergent vegetation and are usually rebuilt each year between August and October. These lodges can be about three to four feet high and about six to eight feet wide. Muskrats will sometimes start building them on top of old deteriorated lodges or will find a new spot to start the construction. Typically muskrats build two types of lodges; the most important one is the lodge where they will reside in during the winter months, and the second one is a feeding platform that can be utilized throughout the whole year. The feeding platform, however, is much smaller than the lodges that the muskrats live in.

     Usually two or muskrats will aid in building the lodge, such as a mating male and female, and they will start by finding a sturdy area to build on. This could be an old lodge or feeding platform, and it will serve as the base of their lodge. Once this base has been found, the muskrats will start to pile emergent plants that they can find and harvest near where they are building their lodge. They will do this until it is the size that they want. They then carve out a plunge hole which is used to enter and exit the lodge from underwater. Once that is finished, they build tunnels that can be used for several purposes. Some of these purposes i nclude space for breeding, winter burrows which is a small tunnel with a chamber attached to it, and burrows used for feeding. Finally, the muskrats carve out a hollow space in the middle of the domed part of the lodge which will serve as the nest chamber where they will be living all winter. The lodges they build for the winter have very thick walls to keep heat in while the temperatures are below freezing. Muskrats will also dig tunnels and chambers into the embankment of the body of water that they inhabit. During the winter muskrats will also make structures called push-ups. These are basically platforms that sit on top of the ice and are used to rest on and eat on during the winter. They are made by gnawing a hole through the ice and pushing vegetation out of the hole until it is about two feet in height and a desirable size for the muskrat that is building it.

     Muskrats share their habitats with many other organisms. These organisms include food sources, predators, and other organisms that don’t affect how muskrats live their daily lives. To see what types of food sources muskrats need to survive, click here.

To see how muskrats have adapted to their environment click here.
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