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Tuesday, April 12, 2016



ADULT MUSKRAT (Google file)...


Tuesday, 9:00 AM.  30 degrees F at the ferry dock, 28 on the back porch.  Wind variable, with light to moderate gusts.  The sky is partially overcast and cloudy but the sun is shining strongly. The humidity is 65% and the barometer is beginning to descend, now at 30.4".
   Things have changed little in the transition from winter to soring across Wisconsin since our last trip; still looks like winter pretty much throughout.
   Muskrats are mostly nocturnal, so unless one spends a lot of time in a marsh or similar environment, a person might never, I suppose, see one.   They are mammals about 18-25" long including a long rat-like tail, from which part of their common name is derived.  They weigh two to four pounds as adults.  They also emit a musky odor from glands near their tail, which accounts for the rest of their name.  Their tail is not flat like a beaver's, and fur color varies somewhat from dark brown to black, with a lighter underside.  Their average lifespan in the wild is about a year, and in that time a female may have as many as three litters of young, six to seven young in a litter.  Muskrats eat cattails and other marsh vegetation, as well as insects, crustaceans and small fish. They are preyed upon by larger mammals and birds of prey.  Their fur is valuable and they are trapped everywhere in their North American wetland habitats.
   All the above information is relevant to what Joan and I are seeing in the large conservation area marsh on Hwy. 2 just west of Ashland.  Lots of muskrat lodges.  A light snow fell early on last Wednesday morning, outlining and emphasizing all the muskrat dwellings (and smaller shelters that they build to feed in). 
   Muskrats are rather solitary as adults, so one can say that each lodge represents an active adult to a degree.  Lots of lodges quite probably translates to a whole lot of muskrats.  Muskrat populations tend to be cyclic, with highs and lows due to predation, food supply and other factors. We both commented simultaneously on the great number and density of lodges,  which leads to the conclusion that the population may be about to crash, and that the good times for Ashland muskrats will son be over.
   On the other hand,  our observations may have little relevance.
   But there sure are lots of lodges.

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