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Posts Tagged ‘muskrat tail’

I turned my head instinctively when I heard a splash in the water yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge? What had made the splash? There were no logs on which a turtle might have been sunning, so I assumed it was one of the many diving ducks that have spent the winter with us. I watched and waited for the duck to resurface so that I could identify its species.

Imagine my surprise when a furry rather than feathered head broke the surface of the water from below. I only had to hesitate a second before I decided that it was a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) rather than a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). Why? It was midday and beavers are generally active only at dawn and dusk; the animal was really small and beavers tend to be a lot bigger in size; and I had a really good look at the tail that was a long, thin “rattail” and not flat like a beaver’s tail.

In the past most of the muskrats that I have seen swimming have kept their tails in the water, often using it for propulsion. Maybe this muskrat was simply treading water, watching me as I watched it. It has been a long time since I have seen a muskrat, so this sighting was a nice treat for me.

Muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not exactly sure what was going on, but this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seemed to be really struggling in the open water one afternoon last week as the strong wind gusts made the water really choppy at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally muskrats use their tails as a source of underwater propulsion, but it seemed really unusual to see a muskrat’s tail completely out of the water.

A Wikipedia article noted that muskrat tails are covered with scales rather than hair, and, to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically, which is a shape that is unique to them. I somehow had always thought of muskrat tails as being long and skinny, but, as the image shows, their tails are quite substantial.

I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the muskrat may be carrying something in its mouth and/or front paws. Is that why it was seeking to balance itself with its tail? For now it remains a mystery, but I think I will go back over the other photos that I took of this muskrat to see if I can find an answer.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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