Muskrat Mission HomeLearnPrivate: EducationAnimal HabitatsMuskrat Misson Welcome to Muskrat Mission! We are going to learn about this mammal that is found almost all over the United States and Canada. Muskrats often make their homes in wetlands. Wetlands are a crucial part of the ecosystem and this animal plays an important role in the wetlands food web. Let’s explore the adaptations, behavior, and life of these wonderful rodents. What do you want to do?* Investigate if the animal nearby is another muskrat or a beaver Mark your territory Slap the water Work on your lodge You see an animal from afar and are curious if it is a muskrat or a beaver. As you get closer, you can tell this animal is much larger than you, probably double your size at least. You clearly make out the ears of this animal. This animal has a tail that is flat and wide. Use the following pictures below to help you determine what the animal is. The animal was a muskrat beaver You find a particularly lovely spot near your home and decide to mark this area as your own. This musk is created in your perineal glands which are situated near the anus just like a skunk. This odorous yellow substance tells other muskrats that this is your area. It is also used during mating season to help find other muskrats! You see a fox lurking by the banks of your wetlands home. You start furiously slapping the water with your tail to alert your family of danger. Beavers are also known for doing this, but more reports are coming out from the scientific community documenting that muskrats do this, too. You dive underwater and flee! A massive storm damaged your lodge which is your home. Muskrats live in familial groups which includes a father, mother, and their young. Muskrats are typically nocturnal, but you feel this is so important that you work on this project during the day. You patch up your lodge without any interruption or fear of predators. Wow! Who knew muskrats were so cool!? Let’s review what we learned during the previous level. We learned that muskrats are not beavers, but they do have many similar behaviors. What's really cool is that they are nocturnal, too! Let’s keep learning about this semi-aquatic mammal. What do you want to do?* Check on the kits Cool off Use your mouth flaps Watch out for predators You check on the muskrat kits. They are sleeping and staying hidden from the outside world. However, they grow up fast. Within 10 days they will be swimming and growing stronger. They will be weened for 21 days on their mother's milk. When they are a month old, they are finding their own food and practically independent. At six weeks, they are fully grown and some muskrats will even become pregnant soon after and start their own families. However, many muskrats continue to live with their families after they are fully grown. They will only leave if there is very little space. Winter has come, but this doesn't phase you too much! You are a muskrat after all. Muskrats hate hot and dry weather. They even have the ability to keep the core of their body cool. Even though many animals hibernate during winter, muskrats don't. If there isn't food in their lodge, they will go out into the world to look for it. They chew through the ice and push plants up to be able to eat them. This can be risky behavior because many predators are still actively hunting and even the muskrat can succumb to harsh, cold temperatures. You look into the water and see some nice aquatic plants beneath you. You dive down and start munching away. Thankfully, muskrats have an amazing adaptation that allows them to use mouth flaps behind their teeth to close their mouth but still be able to chew underwater. This prevents water from going down their throat. Muskrats can hold their breath for fifteen to twenty minutes! When you surface, you have a ton of vegetation to eat. Some coyotes are exploring near your home. You dart under the water for safety and make it safely to your lodge. However, one muskrat wasn't lucky enough. Other predators of muskrats include minks, owls, large fish, raccoons, bobcats, hawks, foxes, and bald eagles. Muskrats are truly so amazing. Who knew this little animal had so many adaptations. We just learned how quickly they grow, how they can chew underwater by "closing" their mouth, and what puts them at risk. Let's keep learning more! What do you want to do?* Construct a feeding platform Explore underwater Have some family time Search for food You and your family have made many feeding platforms in your wetland home. Food you find in the water will be brought here for you to eat. Muskrats eat about a 1/3rd of their weight everyday. However, you and all the other muskrats aren't the only ones to use these. All manner of birds will use these as well as a place to stand and rest. You swim through the water with some food. You see an opening nearby and swim into an abandoned beaver's lodge. No one has been here for some time. You know this because you seen sunlight coming in through cracks that would have been repaired by now. Since no one is coming home, you enjoy the food you found before heading home. You and the family enjoy some time together. Muskrats are monogamous breeders and create very large families in short amount of time. These social dynamics help you survive in a world with many predators. Whether it is building feeding platforms, repairing the lodge, or slapping the water, you all depend on each other! You find yourself chewing around on a rush, but you aren't picky when it comes to vegetation. You love cattails, sedges, pond lilies, and aquatic weeds. However, you are an omnivore! You eat frogs, clams, snails, fish and crayfish, just not that often. We hope that muskrats are becoming one of your favorite animals! It is always endearing to see animals have families just like us. Did you guess that they were omnivores or were you surprised by that? Let's have one more round before finishing our adventure. What do you want to do?* Hide in your lodge Meet the new litter of kits See other styles of muskrat lodges Stay dry and warm underwater The scream of a hawk resonates in the air. You look up and see the hawk is circling around your lodge. You scurry down the side of the lodge and dive deep into the water. You quickly enter your home and stay there until nightfall. Had you not heard the hawk, you may have ended up a meal for this bird of prey. You enter your lodge and check on the litter of muskrat kits. Muskrats mate March through August. Muskrat mothers carry their young for a month. Since gestation takes one month, it allows multiple litters of muskrats to be born a year. Since they are newborns, they are still blind and have yet to grow hair. You see that they are sleeping and go back to the water. Some of your family members have established themselves just past your territory. They have set up a different style of lodge from you. Their children have even made extensive tunnels practicing for when they are adults. You swim down to the other side of your territory where one of your sons has his own lodge in the bank of a stream. He has yet to establish a family so his lodge is much smaller. But nothing beats your lodge! You have built yours in the middle of the wetlands surrounded by good food. It takes work to keep it repaired year long, but you wouldn't give it up for the world. You quickly emerge from the water to do some self grooming. You and all other Muskrats have very soft and dense fur. On top of this, the oil that your skin produces allows you to essentially waterproof your fur. After a second of reflection after grooming, you dive back into the water. Your specially adapted fur is one of your greatest strengths. It allows you to stay warm as you swim under the ice during the winter and stay dry year long! We have learned so much about muskrats today! These animals are an awesome part of the ecosystem. They are a vital part of the food web and create structures in their habitat that birds benefit from. There are so many animals that live in the wetlands that we often forget about lesser known semi-aquatic mammals in favor of otters and beavers. What was your favorite thing that you learned today?What are some other animals that live in Virginia that you would like to learn about?Thank you so much for playing our game today. Here is your reward! This is a wonderful video about beavers, but near the end, some familiar faces, muskrats, will show up and show you just how amazing the animal world can truly be.