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Muskrat

water, home, tail, chiefly, fur, day and especially

MUSKRAT (so called from its musky odor), or Mr.saxAsu. The muskrat (Fiber zibethicus) is one of the most widely distributed and best known of North American quadrupeds, and it is peculiar to this continent. It makes its home in the banks or water of streams, ponds, and lakes. It is the largest known species of the subfamily Arvicolime (see VOLE) of the family Muridce, and is peculiarly adapted to an aquatic life, although there are other species of the sub family which are also amphibious. Its body is about 12 inches in length. and its tail about S inches. The body is rather stout and thickset, the head is rounded, and the ears are small and close. The front feet are rather small, with four digits and a rudimentary thumb, while the hind feet are stout, with five partially webbed toes, and so attached to the leg that they are well fitted for swimming, yet the sculling move ment of the much tail is the principal means of progress ill the water. As with other aquatic mammals, the pelage consists of an undercoat of dense, soft fur and an outer coat, on the back and sides, chiefly of long, shining, smooth hairs. So lunch air is held by these outer hairs that in ordinary excursions the under fur is hardly wetted. The color above is dark umber brown, darkest on the middle of the back and on the tail, while beneath the prevailing shade I7; gray.

The musky odor from which the animal gets its name is due to the secretion of a large gland in the inguinal region, which is present in both sexes. The muskrat is omnivorous, eating roots (especially of the pond lily), fruits, vegetables, insects, worms, mollusks, etc.. but it is especially fond of apples, in search of which it often wan ders far from its home, and thus finds its way occasionally into barns and cellars. In some lo calities fresh-water mussels are a favorite ar ticle of food, and large heaps of the empty shells are sometimes found near muskrat burrows, due to their preference for dining day after day in the same place. Although so widely distributed and abundant, the muskrat is not often seen. as it is mainly nocturnal in its habits, and during the day remains in its burrow or house. The home of this animal is either built of sticks, mud, and grass, and forms a heap the size and appearance of a small haycock, or else is dug out of the hank of a stream or pond and then forms a burrow of indefinite length, the entrance to which is under water. The character of the

home seems to depend upon the nature of the country; where there is an extensive swamp, or stretch of shallow water, so that the houses will not he ordinarily exposed to wandering enemies, muskrats seem to prefer these homes; but where they live in or about a narrow stream, with little swamp. the burrow in the bank is the MOW Usual shelter. The houses are always entered from water deep enough so that the passageway shall nut freeze up in winter.

The flesh of the muskrat is good eat ing,and was formerly much used by the Indians. The fur is used quite extensively. so that the skins are an article of onninerce. For this reason, muskrats are extensively trapped and hundreds of thou sands are killed annually. Their numbers never theless do not decrease, partly because their nat ural enemies are fewer, but chiefly because of the fact that the making of slackwater spaces by damming rivers, and the digging of eanals (whose banks they seriously damage). have greatly extended waters suitable for them in various parts of the country. Trapping is done, chiefly in the winter, by setting small steel trap; at the entrance to their houses or burrows or in runways where they collie ashore.

The haliu muskrat is applied to a number of other more or less rat-like animals, on account of their strong odor. In Europe it is frequently given to the desman (q.v.), while in India it is associated with a shrew (('roridurn e(rrulen) which has well-developed musk glands on the belly and flanks. In South Africa the genet (Gown(' felitm), a viverrine, carnivorous mam mal, is sometimes so called.

Consult the works of Audubon, Richardson, Oodumn. Kennicott. and other early writers; and of C. C. Ablaut. H. D. Thoreau..I. Burroughs, H. L. Sharp, R. Robinson. A. L. Adams, W. Crain, J. A. Allen, E. S. Mearns, and other recent nat uralists; especially Merriam, Mammals of (lie Adiromloas (New York, 1895) ; Ilerrick, Main mots of Minnrsota (.11inneapolis, 1892); Butler, "Observations on the Muskrat," in Ain:Tieun Nat vrolist, vol. xv. (Philadelphia. 1855) : Cram and Stone. A mrriran AnimnIs (New York, 1902).

See Plate of BEAVER, COYPU, A M) NUSKRRAT.