We receive many phone calls during the winter months regarding wildlife behavior, especially in regards to migration and hibernation. I had a phone call earlier this week regarding whether muskrats hibernate or not. As a thick furred mammal, many people think that they do or should be hibernating, but the opposite is actually the reality for these large rodents.
Muskrats do NOT hibernate, but ARE less active in the winter months in order to conserve body heat and energy. They spend most of their time sleeping and eating in their safe, warm lodges. The muskrat’s home has to have an entrance that is located far enough under water that it will not freeze. This way the muskrat will be able to leave its lodge to eat even when the water is frozen. Muskrats chew through the ice to create entryways into the water so they can forage for food out of the water. After they create an opening, they build a covering over the opening out of cattails, grasses and mud. A muskrat’s diet consists of aquatic plants, freshwater clams, frogs, small fish and salamanders. If these foods become hard to find, they can also survive on dry twigs, stems and leaves. The fur of the muskrat is very thick and keeps them very warm. It is nearly waterproof and helps keep them from getting wet.
So don’t be alarmed if you spot a muskrat out during the winter! He/she is just foraging for food and will soon be back in the lodge warm, safe, and napping away
Fun fact: We admitted 13 muskrats in 2011!