Print Posted By Lost in France on 25 Feb 2006 in Wildlife - Wildlife and nature in France

The Muskrat

Muskrat The Muskrat, Musquash or Swamp Beaver Ondatra zibethicus is a large semi aquatic territorial rodent that is native to South America but like the Coypu was introduced to Northern Europe and consequently France in the last century as a result of fur farming, it is now widespread across France inhabiting lakes, ponds and other waterways and causing extensive damage by burrowing into banks. It is considered a pest in France and there are programs to eradicate it.

The Muskrat grows to a length of about 40 cm and its strong scaly hairless tail is another 20 - 30 cm long. It weighs in at around 1.7 kg and has partially webbed back feet. Muskrats are extremely good swimmers and are able to stay submerged for up to 15 minutes at a time. The Muskrat is crepuscular meaning it is mainly active in the early mornings and late evenings.

The Muskrat's lodge or hutThe Muskrats nostrils and lips are equipped to act as valves and it can close its lips behind its front teeth enabling it to gnaw under water

Muskrats sometimes build a conical shaped hut or lodge similar to the beaver (and are sometimes mistaken for the beaver) with a escape exits and a feeding and breeding chamber. They also tunnel into banks to create their homes. The Muskrat gets its name from the musky secretion from its scent glands situated under the base of its tail which it uses to mark its territory that usually covers a range of about 200 meters.

The Muskrats diet consists mainly of vegetation but is also said to consume crayfish, freshwater mussels, amphibians and fish.

Breeding takes place from Spring to late Summer with a gestation period of around 22 days, litters of up to 6 young are born blind and naked with females capable of bearing 3 - 5 litters a year. The young are fully weaned after about a month when they then leave the mother to establish their own territory. The young are capable of breeding at around one year old.

The lifespan of the Muskrat is between 3 -5 years. Apart from man its natural enemies include the mink and foxes. It is widely hunted for both its fur and meat.

French for Muskrat - rat musque

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