North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Muskrat

Scientific Name: Ondatra zibethicus
Classification: Furbearer Species 
Abundance: Found throughout the state;
rare in coastal areas of southeastern NC

Species Profile (PDF)


Tom Koerner/USFWS

   

  

The muskrat is a small mammal that flourishes in North Carolina. It is highly adaptable and establishes colonies in riverbanks and marshes. Muskrats are coveted by humans for their fur and by predators, such as mink. The muskrat’s burrowing activities can cause damage to dikes, road beds, and dams and muskrats will harm crops. However, muskrats are virtually harmless to humans and can entertain anyone who stops to take time to appreciate them.

The muskrat has are two basic color variations— brown (70 percent) and black (30 percent). Jet black and blond varieties do exist but both are rare. An excellent swimmer, this large rodent spends much of its life in water. It has a long, naked tail that is flattened vertically and webbed hind feet, which, for swimming purposes, are much larger than the front feet. Its ears are short and its fur is thick and soft. It looks like a small beaver with a thin tail. Adult muskrats range in size from 10-14 inches and weigh about 2 pounds.

 Muskrats require a permanent supply of water. They occupy a variety of wetland habitats including fresh- and saltwater marshes, canals, ditches, ponds, lakes, rivers and other streams. Primarily plant eaters, muskrats feed on the roots, shoots and leaves of various aquatic plant species. They sometimes build platforms of vegetation for feeding activities in ponds and marshes. Mussels and clams are also a food source. Piles of shells from freshwater mussels show where muskrats feed frequently, usually on rocks and along the banks of rivers and streams. Other food items are bark, acorns, frogs and small fish. In agricultural areas, feeding muskrats can damage soybeans and corn. Feeding activities are primarily nocturnal, but muskrats are often seen during daylight hours.

Learn more by reading the muskrat species profile.

Muskrats can be trapped during the regulated trapping season, or with a depredation permit outside of the trapping season.

 

The muskrat is a very shy, non-aggressive animal that avoids humans. Because of its potential for damaging manmade earthen dikes, dams and irrigation systems, there sometimes is a need to control its population. Licensed trappers take a variable number of muskrats each year. Muskrats can also be trapped during the regulated trapping season, or with a depredation permit outside of the trapping season.

Much of what is known about muskrats in North Carolina is from extensive research efforts conducted by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist, Kenneth A. Wilson. Wilson initiated several research studies from the 1940s through the 1960s to determine why the muskrat population was declining. Wilson examined various life history traits, such as reproduction and kit development, and the muskrat’s preference for certain habitats and foods. He also studied the influence that certain factors, such as weather, predators and varying water levels, can have on muskrat populations. Based on his research the NCWRC made recommendations for managing muskrats as a valuable natural resource, while offering suggestions to prevent or resolve conflicts from damage of abundant muskrat populations.

Trapping Surveys and Reports

Trapper Harvest Survey Estimates