Species: ondatra zibethicus
This semiaquatic rodent originated in North America and was introduced to Europe and Asia (incl. Russia). It can be found in wetlands all over North America, Europe and Asia. In Russia it is spread from Finland throughout the European part of the country and the biggest part of steppes and woods of Siberia, up to Kamchatka.
Muskrats remind of rats, as the name suggests, though it is considerably bigger than ordinary rats. An adult muskrat is about 23-26 cm long and its tail is about the same length (18-28 cm). Adult muskrats weigh around 1 – 1.5 kg. They have large robust bodies, short necks and small heads. Its appearance shows that the rodent is adjusted for life in the water – their back feet are webbed. Ears are almost invisible, eyes are very small. Their long tails are flattened and covered with scales and scarce fur. Their upper and lower incisors overlap and are isolated from the mouth, so muskrats can gnaw on plants under water without choking.
Muskrats live around rivers, lakes, channels and swamps. They prefer shallow water bodies covered with dense vegetation. Muskrats are most active after dusk and in the early morning.
Muskrats live in groups and each group has its own area. Males’ groin glands emit musk discharge and mark their territory. They don’t tolerate newcomers, but in winter they can form groups. In spring females chase their youngsters from the area; cannibalism occur in overpopulated areas. Muskrats that don’t have own families or feeding areas migrate in search for free water bodies.
Usually muskrats are bred in farms.
When kept at home, muskrats can be kept in cages or in glass tanks. The cage should be as large as possible and have a solid bottom.
You have to put in the cage a water bowl large enough for your muskrat to bathe in. You should change the water every second day. Without water your pet will simply die.
In the wild muskrats eat plants – cane, reed, sedge, horsetail, arrowhead etc. In spring muskrats eat young shoots and leaves, and in summer and autumn they eat roots and root leaves. They also eat agricultural crops, at times frogs, shellfish and fish hatchlings.
In captivity their menu mainly consists of carrots, potatoes, girasole; they like apples, peas, barley and tree branches. They can be offered also a complete diet of rodent lab blocks, and rat or mouse mix, with bits of fruit or veggies regularly. Wheat bread is great treat, in small quantities. Do NOT feed chocolate, fried foods, salted foods, candy or junk food! They may enjoy crickets and mealworms if they are captive bred, never feed wild insects as they may carry parasites. Vitamins are a good addition to their diet, and added calcium during nursing and growth due to demands on their systems at those times, but take care not to overdo it. Water bottles should be used to proved constant, clean water. Ceramic or stoneware food dishes work well for keeping seeds or fresh foods off the floor, and a wire mesh hopper that allows them to eat the lab blocks through without extra waste.
In the wild muskrats live up to 3 years, but in captivity under good care they can live much longer.
Each specimen has its own personality; they can be aggressive.
Muskrats can have tapeworms. They are also prone to certain infections, e.g. pasteurellosis.