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The Mysterious Muskrat Abounds in Illinois

Have you ever heard of a muskrat? Maybe, but have you ever seen one? Muskrats are a common animal in Illinois, but they aren’t seen as frequently as other common mammals such as deer and rabbits.

Photo via Shutterstock

These critters are rodents, just like mice, chipmunks, squirrels and beavers. They live by water, and some people say they look like small beavers. While muskrats and beavers do have some similarities, muskrats are an entirely different animal.

Learn more about these fascinating creatures below.

Fun Facts

  • Muskrats have brown fur on their backs, but it is much lighter underneath. Their fur is darker brown in the winter, but is a lighter shade in the summer.

  • For a good comparison, a muskrat is about the same size as a cottontail rabbit. They range in length from 16 inches to 25 inches and weigh between 1 ½ pounds and 4 pounds.

  • Muskrats spend most of their time in water. They prefer to live in and around shallow waters like marshes, swamps and wetlands, but they also live in lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.

  • They are active during all parts of the day, including at night. They are most active in the late afternoon through the time just after the sun sets.

  • Muskrats live in many parts of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. In Illinois, they can be found in every county. Their populations are higher in the northern part of the state.

  • Plants that grow in the water, such as cattails, are a favorite food of muskrats. Although they eat mostly plants, they also eat small animals that live in the water, including fish, crayfish and frogs.

  • Muskrat may seem like a funny name, but it actually makes perfect sense. These animals are rodents and closely related to rats. Plus, during mating season they produce a musky odor to mark their territory.

  • Like beavers, muskrats are good swimmers and often escape from danger by entering the water and swimming away. They can stay under water for up to 15 minutes, and they can swim about 3 mph!

  • Muskrat tails are very long — up to 9½ inches in length. In the water, their tails hang down vertically like the rudder on a boat to help them swim. They also have webbing on their back feet that helps them swim.


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