Photo Credit Above: From Cameron
Humans use gas-powered augers to drill holes in the ice; muskrats use their teeth. They gnaw four- to five-inch diameter holes and push marsh plants up through the ice to form their mound shacks. Then they chew out the interior to create a place to eat, rest and catch a breath of air after swimming under the ice. But just as human anglers have regular homes, muskrats have their own year-around homes. In river ecosystems they often live in burrowed bank dens, but in marshes their more-permanent lodges are constructed of plants, such as cattails, and mud. These houses rest on a firm base—the marsh bottom. Muskrats build these lodges by piling up the plants, then chewing out an opening and carefully layering much of the removed material to the top of the rising mound. Inside each house, which is about one and one-half to three-feet high, a family of three to five muskrats snuggles to stay warm. If a lodge needs repairs, holes are patched with anything from water lily roots to frozen catfish pulled from the mud.
Muskrats spend lots of time in their winter homes and their shacks — eating food from their autumn caches plus other marsh plants foraged under the ice. They can dive for up to 15 minutes to gather plants because their heart rate decreases under water, and oxygen is drawn from stores in muscle tissue. Thick, waterproof fur keeps them dry and warm. Instead of being webbed like a beaver’s, the toes on their hind feet are fringed with stiff hairs, so they work like paddles. The muskrat’s long tail undulates to provide propulsion when the animal swims. The tail can be angled to act as a rudder.
Muskrats are in many ways well adapted to survive the winter. Diving muskrats can gather food without swallowing water because their lips seal shut behind the incisors. Nimble front paws manipulate the roots of cattails, water lilies, arrowheads, pondweeds and other marsh plants.
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Next Meeting: Board
Time: 6:00 pm
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Let's Talk Cattails
Muscrat Populations are up. They help control the cattails.
The image of Shavers Lake in the 1905 map below doesn't look at all like it is today. That's how much we have changed the shape and state of the lake. We need to be a great steward to protect this watershed from disappearing completely, which has almost happened twice in the past 30 years.