What makes muskrats build domed lodges in the middle of ponds instead of burrowing in the banks at the edge? A friend told me of the problems they were having with muskrats that erode the banks of their pond with their constant burrowing. “Just train them to build lodges instead of burrows,” I answered. The solution is simple enough.

I think about the muskrats of my childhood. We trapped the gentle rodents and sold their pelts for fur. Unlike raccoons, opossums and badgers, no one suggested eating muskrats, and their pelts were a poor value compared to mink and fox. Eventually we just left them alone. One year they decided to reward us by building the most amazing group of townhouses in the middle of our farm pond. Before that they, like my friend’s muskrats, had lived in burrows along the river.

Maybe someone knows how to train muskrats. I don’t. They gave their lodges to us freely, not knowing the gift they were giving. If we had tried to make them build lodges they would undoubtedly have returned to burrows. If we had made an issue out of it, they would have done whatever they wanted to do anyway. Muskrats are like that.

The issue is not what is easiest. Lodges appear to be harder to build than burrows. At least muskrats have a choice. Badgers burrow, and beavers build lodges, but muskrats can do either, depending on the circumstances. A naturalist might explain why they decide to do one or the other. When “our” muskrats chose to build lodges, the riverbanks were still there, still accessible, and the circumstances did not appear any different from usual, yet they worked twice as hard gathering the materials for lodges and constructing them. Was it the “Spirit” that moved them?

If you are having trouble with burrowing muskrats, you must get some of that Spirit. Shooting them is not the solution. Some of that Great Muskrat Spirit is.

Advertisements