Muskrat Love

Originally published July 11, 2013

I never thought I would be admitting this (but I’m not so far gone that I’m shouting it from the rooftops, OK?) … I have a thing for muskrat (not the meat, although I’ve read it’s nutritious). Actually, I’m fond of a particular muskrat or muskrats (and, those that have gone before him/her). Ever since we moved to Minnesota in ’91. I really don’t remember feeling this way before that. And, that song in the ’70s by America, “Muskrat Love” — I didn’t like it too much. Thought it was sappy. However, it is one of those earworm type of songs, because when I was pondering this post, I almost immediately remembered it. And, since hearing it again, I’m humming it all the time: hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam do the jitterbug at a Muskrat Land, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm …

Our home overlooks a nice-sized pond, and for more than 20 years we’ve enjoyed watching the aquatic wildlife come and go: ducks (mallards and wood ducks), egrets, herons, geese, turtles, frogs (oh, HOW they love to sing at night!) and muskrats. Every spring, soon after the ice melted, I would look forward to that year’s first sighting of my muskrats swimming from bank to bank. I truly delighted in their ritual. Even tho’ I knew their burrows were weakening our lot. I’m not sure why I’ve had a certain fondness for their furry cuteness. Could be pedomorphism. (Oh my, I really am confessing to dark secrets!)

Well, guess what? Most of us are a little “guilty” of pedomorphism, which is gushing over cute animals. It’s in our genes and starts with our own babies. And when we see cute little animals, our hearts have a tendency to melt, and we want to hug them and squeeze them … and call them “George.”

All kidding aside, it’s important to remember boundaries. Some wild creatures have rabies and/or they might try to eat us when they get bigger. I’ve never wanted to hug my muskrats, but until a few years ago I didn’t realize just how much seeing them in the spring meant to me. There was a “drought” period of about five years before this year, when our pond and its banks were not inhabited by muskrats. In fact, except for the ducks and geese, not a lot was happening. (Except for those damn frogs singing their little lungs out EVERY night!)

I’ve learned that it’s natural for muskrat populations to ebb and flow, but our pond was “sick” with too much duckweed and filamentous algae choking off the pond’s oxygen. A few years ago, we and our pond neighbors began a maintenance program to control the unhealthy growth of algae and problem plants. We’ve taken turns tooling around in a paddle boat and spraying approved chemicals in the water; also, my husband and I — with assistance from our city’s water management team — replaced most of the scrubby dirt and weeds on our bank with good black dirt and native plants that filter out an abundance of nutrients that can lead to a mucky, pea-green soupy pond.

Hallelujah! My muskrats have returned! And, I feel like jitterbugging with them. 😉

Here are some fun facts about these furry cuties:

  • They are cousins to beavers.
  • They are meticulous about keeping their burrows clean.
  • Adult females can have two or three litters of up to 10 young each summer.
  • They can stay under water for more than 15 minutes.
  • They assist with wetland management by eating invasive marsh plants called phragmites. They eat roots, stems, leaves and fruits of many water plants, as well as small fish, clams, snails and turtles. (Just the other day, I saw either Sally or Sam Muskrat “cleaning up” along the bottom of our bank. I imagine he/she was feeling very fond about me too, for the many snails I left there when I raked out some water ferns that were growing too abundantly.)
  • They do not store food over the winter but huddle together for warmth, and sometimes eat the insides of their push-ups (mounds of vegetation and mud). They may even share their cousins’ dams.
  • They build feeding platforms in wetlands, which help maintain open areas for aquatic birds.

So, it turns out that I’m not the only one that has a thing for muskrats … Rocky Raccoon has become smitten with Suzie Muskrat! In fact, here he is peeking in on Suzie and Sam “whirlin’ and twirlin’ the tango.”

Rocky can't believe that he's lost his gal to another critter!
Rocky can’t believe that he’s lost his gal to another critter!

Be careful, Sam! He’s packin’ a gun! (Remember that song by the Beatles? I definitely DID NOT like that one and am so glad that it’s not a pesky earworm like “Muskrat Love.”)

* Thanks to Valerie Murray for the use of her photo. “Rocky” was peeking in her bedroom window. There were many comments from Facebook Friends about how cute he is (pedomorphism!), but it’s also ironic because Val has been kicking these “masked bandits” out of her office and her lake cabin. Seems they are “in love” with her. Either that, or — as one Friend remarked — they need bail money. Val’s a bondswoman. 😉

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