The Rat Shack


In the midst of a fog shrouded water, sets a dead tree and a mound of dried grass. This is a ‘rat shack’. Otherwise known as a muskrat den.  The home and hearth of the common to

nearly every pond in North America, fur-bearing mammal known as the muskrat. Or more scientifically as, Ondatra zibethicus.  Prized in years past for the fur to make hats, coats and other warm and fuzzy clothing. Fly-fishermen who tie flies use their fur for a wide variety of fly patterns.

The muskrat is a smaller cousin to the Beaver (Castor canadensis). The muskrat has front dental chewing tools just like their beaver cousins. The muskrat will whittle on smaller brush and plants, but they don’t take down trees.

Like the beaver, the muskrat is a builder of his home.  Not nearly the size of a beaver, the muskrat also requires a smaller abode.  Their homes can be found in mounded up heaps of grass, plants and small tree limbs away from the shore. Just like the beaver the muskrat enters from under the water and likes to build the free-standing huts offshore. Making it more secure from invaders.

Muskrats and beavers will both build their dens in mud/earthen shores as well. This occurs mainly due to the lack of either building materials or the type of water. On a stream with fast current or deep pools in ponds, creeks and lakes, impede the building of free-standing homes. Hence the banks get worked on pretty hard.

Muskrats are more likely to build on banks than beaver. And they are known to inflict serious damage on earthen dams due to their burrowing.  The burrows also, over time, collapse  – causing large holes. An outcome that is not enjoyed by human or animal residents – who are likely to fall into these sinks.

So the muskrat that moves into a man-made pond, is very likely to be met with all forms of techniques; an a wide variety of disdain; for their presence.  Getting rid of the ‘rats’ is a common goal of many people who live around them, but do not want their presence.  Fatal extraction is still the primary method for reducing unwanted populations.

Thus the lowly muskrat lives as quiet a life of swimming back and forth; between hut and source; in a continual process of building, preparing, repairing and trying to survive.

Then -at times- they take over man-made structures, intended for other wildlife. Like the ‘rat shack’ in the photo above.  Muskrats took over this goose-box; added their own accoutrements and declared possession.

Thus began a humorous round of build; tear-down; rebuild; tear-down; rebuild .. for several weeks. Until the goose box was finally removed entirely.  The muskrat, moderately influenced, move his operations to the back.  Where he should have began all along.

What motivates such outlier actions of animals is a mystery.  But they do offer interesting grist for the mill.





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