Muskrats are named for their musky smell which they use to mark their territories in addition to their large flattened tail which resembles the tail of a rat. They are large rodents, semi-aquatic and when walking in muddy areas they are easy to identify because their tracks show four clawed toes in the front and the track also shows they have five clawed toes on their back feet with a dragging mark between the foot prints caused by their tail, flattened vertically and pulled behind their bodies.
Muskrats forage all year and all times of the day and they can either burrow in a bank or in some northern areas they build large above ground lodges. They feed on a variety of aquatic vegetation, cattails being their favorite food source, and they eat small fish and crayfish. They frequently drag their food items to flat feeding platforms. They average 2-3 litters a year and each litter has 4-8 pups, prolific breeders like all rodents.
Their dense, two-layered fur is considered valuable and their tails are hairless and covered in scales. The hats of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police are made from muskrat pelts. Muskrats can stay submerged from 12-17 minutes at a time. Because of the time spent underwater, they by necessity are less prone to being affected by carbon monoxide buildup. They also close off their ears to prevent water from entering.
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