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Posts Tagged ‘Ondatra zibethicus’

I am not exactly sure what was going on, but this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seemed to be really struggling in the open water one afternoon last week as the strong wind gusts made the water really choppy at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally muskrats use their tails as a source of underwater propulsion, but it seemed really unusual to see a muskrat’s tail completely out of the water.

A Wikipedia article noted that muskrat tails are covered with scales rather than hair, and, to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically, which is a shape that is unique to them. I somehow had always thought of muskrat tails as being long and skinny, but, as the image shows, their tails are quite substantial.

I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the muskrat may be carrying something in its mouth and/or front paws. Is that why it was seeking to balance itself with its tail? For now it remains a mystery, but I think I will go back over the other photos that I took of this muskrat to see if I can find an answer.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was so close yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park that I almost stepped back off of the edge of the slippery boardwalk as I tried to make sure that I was within the focusing range of my telephoto zoom lens.

I ended up wet from the intermittent rain, but managed to avoid falling into the water.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been quite a while since I have seen any mammals other than squirrels, dogs, and humans at Huntley Meadows Park. Although I long to spot a fox, beaver, or even a coyote (someone saw one recently in one of the remote areas of the park), I was quite happy when I caught sight recently of a little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) as it munched away on some vegetation. The sound of my camera’s shutter or my movement must have alerted the muskrat to my presence and within seconds the furry creature disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, a lady with binoculars around her neck vigorously motioned to me and pointed downwards. A muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was foraging in the vegetation almost directly below the raised observation deck on which she was standing and she correctly assumed I’d be interested—it might have had something to do with the enormous zoom lens that was prominently attached to my camera.

I don’t see muskrats very often, so it was a treat to get a relatively unobstructed view of one. The muskrat used its “hands” to hold the leafy vegetation as it delicately nibbled on its lunch. The muskrat seemed so prim and proper that I almost expected to see it use a napkin to wipe its lips when it was done.

From this overhead angle, the muskrat looked a bit like a beaver, but the undulations of its long, thin tail as it swam away left no doubts that it was a muskrat.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For the second time in two weeks I spotted a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) at my local marshland park this past Monday and I was able to get some shots at even closer range that the last time.  (At my closest, I was well within ten feet (three meters) of the little muskrat). I was on a boardwalk above the level of the water and I hung over the edge in an effort to get some shots at close to eye level.

The muskrat was a really small one and paid very little attention to me. It concentrated in pulling some of the vegetation out of the plants at water’s edge and them chewing on them while in the water. Once again, I was amazed at the dexterity of the front paws, which functioned as hands to get the food into the muskrat’s mouth.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As promised, here are some additional images of the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) that I was able to observe one day last weekend at dusk, as it was foraging for food. I posted one photo in an initial blog entry entitle Muskrat at dusk—preview, but I knew that there were other shots that I wanted to share.

The muskrat would dig around a bit in the cattails and marsh grass and then would drag its food into the water to gnaw on it. I was struck by the muskrat’s dexterity and the way that it used its front paws, which looked remarkably like little hands. In some shots, the muskrat might be mistaken for a beaver, but in other shots you can clearly see the tail, which lets you know immediately that it is not a beaver.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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At dusk yesterday as I was preparing to leave Huntley Meadows Park, my local marshland park, I stumbled upon this muskrat enjoying its dinner. The sun was setting, but it provided just enough warm light for me to capture some images of this elusive little animal.

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) generally are skittish and the most common view that I get of them is when they are swimming away from me. I was fortunate that this muskrat was concentrating on feeding, so its guard might have been down a little, and I was able to approach it without startling it.

I was snapping away in an effort to take advantage of the disappearing light and my moment of solitude with the muskrat, when my camera alerted me that my memory card was full. I backed away slowly and surprisingly was able to change memory cards and resume shooting.

Suddenly I started to feel vibrations in the boardwalk on which I was kneeling and I realized that I was not alone. I tried to concentrate as much as I could, knowing that my time was limited as I felt and heard the approach of a young family with both a stroller and a toddler. The noise and movement was too much for the muskrat and after a bit of hesitation, it scrambled under the ice and swam away.

I haven’t yet downloaded and looked through all of my shots, but wanted to share an initial image. I really like that the last rays of sunlight were able illuminate the muskrat’s fur and add a little catch light in the eyes. (As you can probably tell, the light was coming from camera right and shining right on the muskrat.)  Stay tuned, as I am sure that I will post at least a few more photos of my encounter with this little muskrat.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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