When it comes to getting rid of muskrats, there are a handful of methods for removal, some questionable and some reliable. Of questionable methods, food source interruption has to be top on the list. It is true that eliminating the cattails, water lilies and aquatic vegetation that muskrats feed on will put a dent in their otherwise content lives; however, it is not always ethical or legal to destroy an entire eco system for the sake of singular pest removal. The amount of life that exists on a muskrat pond is far more extensive than just the muskrats and plants. Birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals of all shapes and sizes rely on water habitats for food. It is generally not recommended to try to get rid of muskrats by eliminating the plant life. Decorative ponds or water bodies that are not subject to the natural course of life can be maintained with plant quality control. Fencing is an option for any size area, though closing off areas of swamps and ponds in an urban setting can be an expensive endeavor.
Another tactic on the not-so-good list is attempting to poison muskrats. There is no approved muskrat poison on the market, and people have often tried other animal poisons as a result. Poisoning a muskrat is not a good idea. Keep in mind that poisoning a wild animal may affect other animals along the food chain, and cause more damage than you may be aware of. The last thing town officials want are handfuls of poisoned muskrats floating in the water supply.
As with most moderately sized nuisance animals, the best method of control is trapping and removal. Muskrats can be trapped with live traps and relocated at least one mile away. They can also be effectively trapped with lethal, body gripping traps. Lethal traps are very effective and can be less time consuming than live trapping. Similar to trapping beavers, body gripping traps are placed in runways around the body of water. These passages will look like well-travelled runs, and they should have no more than a few inches of water in them. Any pathways in deeper water offer muskrats a chance of swimming over the trap without getting caught. You can also venture out onto the ice during winter to place traps inside the muskrat lodge. By gently removing the top part of the structure, you can place the body gripping trap inside the main chamber. You must be sure to replace the material back as tightly as possible to prevent the lodge temperature from dropping, forcing the muskrats to build another for adequate warmth. If the ice around the lodge is clear, you can see muskrat roadways beneath, characterized by trails of stirred-up, muddy water. Chip away the ice in these locations and set your trap.
Cage traps are a little more difficult to set up due to their bulky size and shape. If you are determined to use a cage trap, one recommended method is to secure it to a board and push the board and baited trap into the water. The muskrat will have no choice but to use the board to access the bait inside the cage, and this will eliminate the chance of the animal avoiding the device altogether.
MUSKRAT BIOLOGY & INFORMATION
The North American Muskrat is a semi-aquatic rodent that lives in West and South West of the United States and in the Northern part of Mexico. There are other types of muskrat species that can be found in the Southern part of the United States and the muskrat has now been introduced into areas in Europe and in Asia. The muskrat looks very similar to a mix between a rat and a beaver. The muskrat has a shiny brown top and undercoat that is great for insulation during the colder winter months. It has a flat tail and webbed toes to make it easier to swim in the water. However, unlike a beaver, the muskrat is fairly small. It only grows up to a foot long, has a maximum height of about 6 inches and only weighs 3 pounds.
The muskrat lives on land and on water. It can make a burrow that is made on top of the water with an entrance that is beneath the burrow, but these are not part of a dam system. Muskrats will also make their huts out of reeds on marshy banks or burrow into the mud of the actual bank. Muskrats have the amazing ability to hold their breath for up to 15 minutes underwater, but do not like to build their burrows near places where the water level changes drastically. This makes the banks of ponds, small lakes, marshes, swamps and rivers especially likely home for the muskrat.
The muskrat is an omnivore, but primarily eats vegetation. They prefer to eat plants that are found around their aquatic burrows but will venture out to find other types of plants; like the ones in your garden. Farmers and gardeners do not particularly care for muskrats and they can severely damage food crops in a relatively short amount of time. They do this by destroying the roots of the plant. If vegetation and fruits are scarce, like in the winter, muskrats have been known to eat other animals such as fish, insects and smaller rodents also.
While muskrats do not actively hunt other animals, many animals hunt them. The muskrat’s chief enemy is the mink but it has many other enemies also. Some of the main predators that will hunt muskrats include coyotes, alligators, otters, raccoons, owls and snakes. Humans also seek out the muskrat because of its valuable fur that is made into women’s coats and its scent glands that are put into perfumes. This is where it gets its name the Musk-rat as its scent glands are made into musk perfumes. Because of the high amount of predation that the muskrat must face, it rarely lives longer than two years. However, in highly secure areas that have lots of food available and not very many predators, the muskrat can live up to eight years.
The muskrat’s breeding season lasts from late spring to early summer and following a month of gestation, the female muskrat will give birth to a litter of two to six young. Muskrats become weaned from their mother in about a month to a month and a half and will become sexually mature in six to seven months. In the warmer regions, female muskrats can have two to three litters per year, and in the colder regions they will have one or two litters which make them very fast reproducers. It is this reason that when the muskrat was first introduced into Eurasia that the very quickly became an invasive species. Muskrats are seen as pests and are exterminated regularly, but because they reproduce so fast it is very hard to control their populations.
For info on another, larger aquatic rodent, read about how to get rid of nutria