You are what you eat

     Muskrats are a very versatile species when it comes to their diet.  Muskrats are mainly herbivores, but under certain circumstances  they may choose to feed on animals.  They feed on many different plant species including: Cattail, River Bulrush, Various Sedges, Duckweeds, Arrowhead, Bur Weed, Smartweed, Sweetflag, Reeds, Water Lilies, Wild Rice, Pickerelweed, Clover, Willow, Acorns, Switchgrass, and Long-Leaf Pondweed.  While some of these plant species are specific to the muskrat’s habitat, they are not limiting to a muskrat’s diet.  Muskrats will feed on almost all edible plant species that are in or very near the habitat they are living in, especially if the population is large for the habitat they are occupying.  Habitats near agricultural land, such as corn fields, can also provide a food source for muskrats.  However, they will usually only resort to feeding on land if the vegetation in their aquatic environment is becoming hard to find.  Muskrats feeding in aquatic environments will usually eat the tender parts of plants near the base of the plant first, and then also feed on the roots and leaves.  Circumstances in which a population of muskrats is overpopulating an area or where food is scarce due to natural causes, muskrats will feed on animals.  These animals tend to include: mussels, frogs, snails, fish, carrion, turtles, and clams. 
     The time of year can also have an influence on what the muskrats eat.  In the spring, summer and fall seasons, many different plants and food sources are heavily available for the muskrats.  Once winter falls upon the muskrat’s habitat though, food sources can become very limited.  This is due to several factors; the plants that typically make up the muskrat’s diet do not grow during the winter months, and the ice also can prevent muskrats from foraging above water.  Due to these reasons, during the winter densely grown submergent vegetation such as cattails and river bulrush are a main part of the muskrat’s diet.  This is because these types of plants are available for ingestion throughout the year, and the rhizomes on these plants also have a very high nutritious value which can sustain the muskrats until new vegetation begins to grow in the spring.

     When thinking about a muskrat’s diet, another factor to consider is the location of their habitat.  Muskrats can inhabit a variety of habitats including: marshes, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, canals, and streams.  For example, muskrats living in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs are usually more carnivorous than muskrats living in marshes and streams that are mostly herbivorous. 



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