Muskrats: Habitat, Diet & Reproduction

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the muskrat, a common animal in much of North America. We'll look at its habitat and diet, as well as its reproductive behavior.

Musky Rats

Can you imagine if humans were named after the way they smell? That's sometimes how it is with animal species, like the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus).

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are rodents that look a little like large rats, and smell musky. That basically means they have a very strong smell that tends to stick around, and it's how they got their name.

Muskrats also have brown, waterproof fur like a beaver, and they have webbed feet, both of which help in their watery environments. They usually range from a foot and a half to two and a half feet long. Let's learn about their habitat, diet, and reproduction.

Muskrats were named mostly for how they smell


Muskrats can be found throughout most of North America, except in some of the southern areas like southern Florida and Texas. They are semi-aquatic, which means they spend a lot of time in the water, though they do come on land.

They always live near water, usually fresh water, and they prefer water bodies that are slow moving. This includes ponds, lakes, swamps, and marshes, as well as slow streams. Usually muskrats stick to areas where they have at least four to six feet of water.

These animals also need areas with a lot of aquatic plants because they use them for building nests as well as eating. One type of nests muskrats build is called a lodge. This is similar to what beavers do. It's made of sticks and plants, and is built to come up a couple feet out of the water.

A muskrat lodge
muskrat lodge

Muskrats will also build dens in the bank of their body of water, tunneling through the dirt. In either case, the entrance to the nest is underwater, and it goes far enough up to come completely out of the water. This prevents most predators from having access.


Muskrats have a mostly plant-based diet. They eat plants like pond weeds, cattails, water lilies, and ferns. However, if there aren't enough plants available, they can vary their diet by adding in snails, shellfish, or even frogs.

Once they catch or gather their food, they don't eat it right away. Instead, they carry it up onto a platform, either their lodge or something similar, and eat it there. This protects them from predators.

Muskrats have a mostly plant-based diet
Muskrat eating


Muskrats are mammals. That means they give birth to live young, and they produce milk and nurse their babies. Muskrats can mate after they are a year old, and after that they might have as many as five litters in a single year!

The mother carries them for about a month before giving birth, and in each litter there can be anywhere from two to nine babies. In warmer climates, muskrats breed all year. In colder areas, breeding is seasonal, and they give birth in spring and summer.

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