How to Get Rid of Muskrats

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Here at RMC, we often handle pests that cause a lot of harm, as well as those that are just a nuisance. But today, we’re going to talk about an animal that sits in the grey area: the muskrat.

I’ll go over ways to get these rodents off your property and keep them away. Then we’ll get to know them a little better and discuss why it might be worth sharing your pond with them.

Getting Rid of Muskrats

We all know that rodents breed like rabbits (despite not being related), so you may wish to remove them from your property, even if it’s only a temporary measure.

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This also gives a good excuse to take stock of factors that might attract these critters and limit or remove them, depending on whether you want your land to be muskrat free or permit a limited population.

Always wear safety gear such as thick gloves when attempting these methods to reduce the risk of bites or disease transmission.

muskrat damage
Muskrat damage to pond shoreline

Kill Methods

There are three potential ways to kill a muskrat, each with its own caveats.

Hunting

While it’s necessary to check with your local wildlife authority, hunting muskrats is legal in most areas. This is because they’re classified as furbearing (i.e. their fur has commercial value). If you choose this route, remember to hunt responsibly to ensure no humans or pets are harmed by accident.

Kill Traps

As with hunting, kill traps are largely permitted, but it’s best to do a little research to ensure they’re legal in your area. A good choice is a conibear trap (#110 size), as these are reusable, quick, and humane.

Simply place it at a water level den entrance. Be sure to check it frequently and safely dispose of each carcass and reset the trap until there are no more muskrats.

Obviously, you will need to practice extreme caution with kill traps so children or pets aren’t accidentally harmed.

conibear trap for muskrat
Conibear trap

Poisons

When you think rodent, the first thing that comes to mind is probably poison. Of course, there are some critters that have to be killed, but in the case of muskrats, this is a bad idea for multiple reasons.

First of all, any toxins you use will pollute the water your furry fiend lives in. Aquatic life can be very sensitive to toxins, and any predators that eat contaminated aquatic life can also be poisoned. For this reason, it’s likely the use of such poisons will be illegal in your area.

Even if a predator doesn’t eat the dead muskrat and you manage to avoid harming the environment directly, muskrats are fairly light and the corpses could end up floating away to end up on other peoples’ properties or potentially contaminate your community’s water supply over time.

Professional Trappers

Professional exterminators cost less than you might think, but there’s actually another option for these particular critters. Because their fur is valuable, you may be able to call a local trapper to remove the critters for you.

As with calling beekeepers to handle bees, you may get a reduced rate or even free service if the conditions are right.

Non-Kill Methods

muskrat in water

While they can be a nuisance and cause some damage, muskrats are important for the environment. As a result, relocation is generally the best option.

Live Traps

Trapping these critters can be a little tricky, as they’re smart enough to avoid an obvious trap. On top of that, you can’t simply put the trap outside of an underwater entrance, as you don ‘t want the muskrat to drown.

Instead, place the trap on a nearby bank and camouflage it with plants or soil. Stick a tasty treat inside, such as sliced apple or a root vegetable (ex: carrots or potatoes). Once trapped, relocate your furry friend to another pond or stream.

As with other rodents, try to choose bodies of water that are at least five miles from your home and preferably not connected to your own water feature.

Natural Predators

While not exactly a no-kill method, muskrats can often be convinced to relocate if there are predators around. Foxes, hawks, owls, or even your pet dog can encourage your little guest to move house.

You can even sprinkle predator urine crystals or use decoys if you’d rather not have the real thing. Just remember that crystals need replaced every few days and after it rains. Likewise, be sure to move decoys around occasionally so they seem more alive.

Muskrat Prevention

keep muskrats away

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As always, the best solution to any problem is to not have the problem to begin with. Thankfully, muskrats have specific preferences when it comes to food sources and shelter that make it easy to discourage these animals from moving in.

Food Sources

While known to munch on various critters, approximately 95 percent of this nuisance pest’s diet is aquatic vegetation. To discourage a population explosion (or a population to begin with), try limiting the following plants along your water features:

  • Arrowhead
  • Cattail
  • Ferns
  • Pond weeds
  • Rushes
  • Sedge
  • Water lilies
  • Willow

Shelter Needs 

These critters prefer banks with steep slopes, although they can build artificial mounds when necessary. An easy way to discourage burrowing is to make the bank shallow or add rocks, including below the waterline so it’s harder to dig an entrance.

Getting to Know Muskrats

These moderately-sized rodents can be good or bad, depending on your circumstances. However, it’s easy to end up with a large muskrat population if you aren’t careful.

Here are the basics on these critters, including how to identify them and their homes, what they eat, and whether they should be considered a threat.

Identifying Muskrats

muskrat

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are large rodents measuring between eight and 14 inches long. They can be found natively throughout most of North America, preferring to live near bodies or water or in wetlands.

With their short, thick brown to dark brown fur and webbed feet, it can be easy to confuse them with other semi-aquatic mammals, most notably beavers.

Despite being rodents, these little guys can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes at a time and are excellent swimmers. You’re more likely to see them in the water or scurrying towards the bank, as they’re incredibly shy.

Despite the name, muskrats aren’t closely related to rats. Instead, the original name musquash was derived from either the Algonquian “muscascus” or the Abenaki “mòskwas”. Later, this moniker was changed to musk-beaver before ending up as it is today.

Muskrat vs Beaver

muskrat vs beaver

While they look a lot like beavers, there are several differences. The most notable is the size, with muskrats weighing in at around four pounds while beavers can weigh fifteen times more.

The tails are another easy distinction, with the beaver having a wide, paddle-like tail as opposed to the narrow, flat-sided tail of a muskrat.

Beaver feet are fully webbed, allowing them to swim mostly submerged, while their tails tend to erase part of their tracks on land instead of adding a narrow drag trail. Finally, while beavers prefer softer woody plants, muskrats will gladly snack on smaller vegetation and smaller critters such as crayfish.

Muskrat vs Round-Tailed Muskrat

Despite the name, the round-tailed muskrat (Neofiber alleni) isn’t a type of muskrat, although it shares the same tribe. Thankfully, you can tell these two species apart with three very obvious distinctions:

  1. If it has a flat tail, it’s a muskrat, whereas the round-tailed muskrat has a (you guessed it) round tail.
  2. The round-tail is much smaller than its cousin.
  3. If you’re in Florida, it’s probably a round-tail. If you’re anywhere else, it’s probably a muskrat (their territories don’t overlap).

Identifying Dens

muskrat den

Unlike beavers, these critters tend to build their dens in the banks of ponds. These burrows usually have an underwater entrance about six inches beneath the surface. The tunnels can extend as far as 45 feet back.

In cases where the bank isn’t steep enough, they may build a pop-up dome similar to a small beaver dam along the shoreline.

Near the  burrow, you’ll find damaged aquatic plants, well-worn trails, and dark, pellet-shaped droppings. The entrances are often marked by muddy water.

When creating their trails, they form vital openings for waterfowl such as geese to access the bank. Thus, if you have a goose issue, these rodents may be contributing.

What Do Muskrats Eat?

These critters love small water-loving plants such as cattails or water lilies. In addition to vegetation, they also enjoy crayfish, fish, frogs, mussels, and even turtles.

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Are Muskrats Dangerous?

Well, yes and no. These are incredibly timid critters that prefer to avoid humans and won’t attack unless cornered. However, they are known to carry parasites and disease. These include:

  • Cryptosporidium
  • Leptospirosis, AKA Weil’s disease
  • Mites
  • Pseudotuberculosis
  • Rabies
  • Ringworm
  • Tapeworm
  • Ticks
  • Tularemia
  • Tyzzer’s disease

In addition to these risks, there’s a chance the burrows could result in damage to docks or the aesthetics of your water feature. However, they partially make up for this be spreading seeds and helping to keep the shoreline trimmed.

Morgan

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