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I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure?

Q: I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure?

Elizabeth – Portland, IN

A: The muskrat, scientific name Ondatra Zibethica, is a common critter that’s widely distributed throughout North America. This furbearing rodent depends on habitats with water – including lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds and marshes – so your visitor could very well be a muskrat. Read on to learn how to identify them and how to prevent these troublemakers from damaging your pond.

IDing a Muskrat

Weighing only 2 to 4 pounds and measuring 22 to 25 inches (including its nearly hairless, scaly tail that it uses to propel through the water), the muskrat is covered in short, dense fur in shades of brown, grey and blonde. It has relatively small front feet with four major toes and small thumbs. Its hind feet are much larger and partially webbed to assist with swimming.

The small-eyed, small-eared muskrat is classified as a rodent because of its four incisor teeth in the front of its mouth. The two upper and two lower incisors overlap, allowing them to self-sharpen as they are used. Folds of skin behind the incisors allow a submerged muskrat to cut vegetation without getting water into its mouth.

The “musk” part of the critter’s moniker derives from musk glands that are predominant beneath the skin on the male’s lower abdomen. In the spring, the glands swell and produce a yellowish, musky-smelling fluid.

Home Sweet Home

So what do muskrats look for in a home? They like a spot that includes a plenty of food, a body of water and shoreline vegetation. These guys chow on a variety of greens and protein, including roots, stems and buds as well as frogs, snails and fish.

Besides eating cattails and other marginal aquatic plants, muskrats also use their honed teeth to cut down the plants and use them as building materials for their dome-shaped lodges located on stream or pond banks. Muskrat houses are smaller than beaver dens, but they do have one or more underwater entrances. They commonly house an entire family group, which can multiply in a short amount of time.

If you think your pond is home to a growing family of muskrats, look for lodges and burrows made from foliage and mud along the pond bank. Check for their distinctive tracks. And keep an eye out for them at dawn or dusk when they’re most active.

Damage Control

Uncontrolled muskrat populations can cause damage to private property and habitat. Their hole digging activities undermine earthen dams, dikes, irrigation canals and farm ponds. Their burrows and shelters may change the direction of water flow into or out of the pond.

The best way to discourage them from moving in is to keep shoreline vegetation – their food and shelter material – to a minimum. Use your rakes and cutters to chop down marginal plants and remove them from the pond area. In addition, try using a coyote decoy, muskrat live trap or motion-activated animal deterrent to scare them away.

Pond Talk: Have you ever contended with a muskrat colony? How did you convince them to move out?

Deter Pests From Your Pond - Bird-X 3D-Coyote Decoy

14 Responses

  1. Muskrats have destroyed my pond. They have eaten holes through the heavy rubber lineing in several places. Going to be very costly to fix as is 15,000 gal. Koi pond. How can I get rid of them. If I put out poison I’m afraid it will kill my fish

    • Hi Joyce – Sorry to hear about the damage they have caused. Unfortunately I don’t have any other solutions beyond the ones listed in the blog to discourage them from coming near the pond. Depending on the severity and location of the holes you may be able to use sections of liner with seam and cover tape to patch them rather then replacing the entire liner.

  2. How about a suggestion for snapping turtles? We have a creek which runs into the Chesapeake Bay and we think they are coming up the creek and then overland to the koi pond. My husband caught 2 in the pond in a simple trap he made. He grabbed them by the tails, threw them in the trunk and they got a valet trip in a Mercedes to the Chesapeake Bay about 6 miles away. They are back and they sure look like the same ones. This time I’m going to spray paint a spot on their shells. Is it possible they are only coming in to lay eggs?

    • Hi Lynda – We actually had a blog about 2 months ago regarding snapping turtles. Click here for a link to the article.

      • Thanks Kathy. Do you know how far away is far enough to discourage them from invading my pond again? 6 miles isn’t far enough as they are back again.


      • Hi Lynda – It’s likely it may not even be the same muskrat as they populate rapidly but I have not come across information that indicates how much they travel. We will be sure to post updates if we come across this information.

      • My problem is snapping turtles, the muskrats belong to someone else 🙂


      • Hi Lynda – I’m sorry I saw the link from the muskrat post and forgot you had asked about the snapping turtles. Snapping turtles can travel a great distance as well but I do not have an exact number on how far they travel. I’ll keep you posted if I find out any additional details.

      • No problem Kathie. Muskrats, turtles … all the same 🙂

  3. 12 gauge worked for me. No problems since.

  4. My Jack Russell and Golden Retriever tagged team a large muskrat that I’m sure came in to munch on my prize Koi and I live in town!!!! The Jack Russell suffered 30 stitches and a trip to the vet but looked on proudly as the Golden Retriever held their “dead as a door nail” prize in her mouth!

  5. I shot them with #6 20 ga shot . no problems since.

  6. How lucky! A Muskrat family is a wonderful addition to your pond.

  7. Muskrats seem to be a real problem, but I have Ground Hogs that tend to dig holes on the backside of my dam. I’ve trapped em’ , shot them ,
    30-30 , 100 yard shots, (not bad huh?) and seem to have gotten rid of em, but I still keep my trap set.They can do damage also.

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