While on a late-winter stroll along High Park’s Grenadier Pond, it's always good too take your time because if you walk to quickly, you might miss a dome-shaped structure, hidden somewhere among the tall wetland plants. Inside this structure, there might be a semi-aquatic rodent that is spending most of their time sleeping and feeding, safe from the harsh winter conditions.
“Is it a beaver?” “Is it a muskrat?”
Although muskrats and beavers are distant relatives, it can be challenging to tell them apart. They’re both brown, rounded animals with bare, fleshy tails. They both paddle at the surface of the water when they swim. Even their lodges can be a bit tricky to tell apart at a first glance! So how can you tell a muskrat from a beaver? Here are some of their most notable differences:
Size: Muskrats are much smaller than beavers. An adult muskrat can weigh up to about 4 pounds but an adult beaver can weigh over 40 pounds!
Structures: Although beavers are the only one of the two that will build a dam, both animals do build dome- shaped lodges. However, muskrat lodges are smaller than beaver lodges, and their lodges are mostly made up of wetland plants like cattails. A beaver’s lodge will mostly be made up of large sticks and logs.
Diet: Beavers will stick to an exclusively vegetarian diet, eating the soft tissue hidden beneath tree bark. Muskrats will eat wetland plants, like cattails or sedges, but they can also eat small aquatic animals like crayfish or snails.
Swimming Pattern: While swimming along the surface of the water, a muskrat’s head and back is usually exposed. Their long slim tail can also be seen making distinctive clear cuts through the water. When a beaver swims through the water, you are likely to only see their head above the surface and their wide and flattened tail will sweep up and down in the water, like a paddle.
FUN FACT: Muskrats can also move into beaver lodges, even while the beavers are there!