Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Drowned Muskrat?

Before this year I'd never come across a dead beaver or a dead muskrat in the wild (except for seeing roadkill). This year I've seen both. Back in early April my niece and I discovered a beaver floating in a pond -- you can read about that here. Then yesterday I saw a dead muskrat. It was lying in a small pool of water near the Exeter River in Exeter. Kodi and I were setting off on a walk at Phillips Exeter Academy, a popular dog-walking spot. The muskrat was in the middle of an access road.
Kodi paid no attention so we continued on. When we returned after 30 minutes or so the muskrat was still there. I moved it off into the weeds after taking a few photos. I saw no external injuries to indicate why the muskrat died.

Muskrats are much smaller than beaver; both are rodents with large teeth for eating vegetation. This muskrat was about the size of a small (trim) woodchuck. The most noticeable difference between beaver and muskrat are the tails. Beavers have a broad flat tail, while muskrats have a thin rat-like tail. Here are the two in comparison.
In her most recent column in Northern Woodlands magazine, expert tracker Susan Morse perhaps put it best when she wrote about a muskrat swimming towards her, "The creature resembled an oversized meadow vole, yet acted more like a tiny beaver." The muskrat's rather tidy size and its flexible diet that includes plants as well as aquatic animals enables it to survive in a wide range of habitats and places from freshwater to saltwater.

I'd much prefer to see a muskrat swimming then to stumble across a dead one. Yet, this up close encounter offered a unique opportunity to study its features and to ponder its fate.


  1. Ellen, there are few folks who would recognize and seize an opportunity such as this to learn more about the animals with whom we share this planet.

    As always, I admire your curiosity.


  2. Thanks John! Probably not everyone enjoyed this particular post :) Ellen