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How to control nuisance muskrats

If you've noticed water seepage and erosion around the banks of your pond, muskrats could be the culprit. These stocky rodents love to burrow and dig tunnels, thus weakening the structural integrity of your pond. According to the University of Missouri Extension, the best defense against damage caused by muskrats is a thorough understanding of the problem.

About the muskrat

The muskrat is a stout, chunky animal with short legs. An adult ranges from 22 to 25 inches long. The 11 inch black tail is scaly, practically hairless and laterally flattened. It is used as a prop when the animal is on its hind feet and is also an aid to swimming. The average weight of a mature muskrat is about 2.5 pounds. The large, broad hind feet are partially webbed and well-adapted for swimming.

They have dense, silky, grayish underfur heavily overlaid on the back and sides with glossy, dark-brown guard hairs. Muskrats are seldom found far from water. They prefer the still or slow-moving water of marshes, ponds and streams. Muskrats are active year-round and, while usually nocturnal, may move during daylight hours.

The muskrat is primarily a vegetarian, feeding mostly on the roots and stems of aquatic plants and, if they occur near water, such items as legumes, grasses, grains, garden crops and apples. Animal food, particularly crayfish and fresh-water mussels, occasionally is eaten.

Muskrats live in houses constructed of vegetation or in burrows dug into banks. Both houses and burrows have underwater entrances and above-water living chambers.

Muskrats breed from early spring until fall, giving birth to several litters of from four to seven young. The young are born naked and helpless in protected nest chambers in houses or bank burrows. Young muskrats grow rapidly and are independent at an early age.

Muskrat control: Trapping

Muskrats may be trapped or shot when responsible for property damage. Muskrats are easily trapped. They may be captured by using a number 1 or 1-1/2 steel trap or a body-gripping trap. Selection of trap sites is important and should be made with care.

Muskrat trails are particularly productive, and the trap may be sunk in the mud or sand and chained to a stake. Traps set on floats, either natural objects or artificial rafts, can be successful. Trap sets in runways, den openings, slides or near natural resting places are also productive.

Where possible, the stake to which the trap chain is attached should be placed in water at least a foot deep so that the captured animal will drown. This is not necessary when using the Conibear because it humanely kills the animal outright.

If there are muskrats in your pond and they are not causing serious trouble, consider them a cash crop. They are easy to trap and skin. Trap them heavily each open season; they produce a lot of young and come back rapidly. A local trapper may be interested in taking the fur for profit if you do not wish to trap. Watch the dam closely for burrows, and repair any weak spots at once. It is relatively easy to fix a weak spot, but a big job to repair the dam after a break has occurred.

Mechanical methods

Rip-rapping with coarse stone or gravel may prevent muskrats from digging into the banks or dam slopes of ponds. The material should be applied in a layer about six inches thick and should extend from one foot above to three feet below water level. This method of damage prevention also protects the pond banks and earthen fill from wave action.

The area of pond most sensitive to muskrat damage is the dam structure itself. A trench may be cut with a narrow trenching machine in the centerline of the earth fill. The trench should extend lengthwise of the fill, be cut about three feet below water level, and be filled to one foot above water level with concrete. The resulting concrete core will effectively prevent muskrats from digging through the dam.

Mesh poultry wire, galvanized after weaving, may be pegged to the inside surfaces of the pond. Lay the wire flat against the banks, and fasten it down every few feet to keep it in place. Wire should extend from a foot above to at least three feet below water level. Since the wire will eventually corrode, this method is not recommended for ponds where swimming is planned.

Pesticides

Pesticides are not recommended for use in controlling muskrats.

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