Muskrats are alive and well in Toronto
When an animal is rarely or never seen or heard, it is easy to think that it is rare. This is often the case, but not always so. The muskrat is a good example. These animals are rarely seen, but they are abundant. Even in Toronto.
These days, many wild animals are in some type of danger of extinction. Fortunately, this is not the case for all of them, not even when they are heavily “harvested” or hunted. One of these animals is the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus).
Even though muskrat doesn’t quite have the jet-set sound of mink or wolf, it is still a very popular fur-bearing animal. Although it has never been in any danger in Canada, its secretive nature makes that few people have been privileged enough to see one.
When we do not see an animal, this does not necessarily mean that it is rare or endangered, and sometimes, it can even be quite common. The muskrat qualifies here as well.
Spotting muskrats can be as easy as seeing them swim in open water, and it can be as tricky as making out their shape in more or less dense vegetation.
It can be quite hard to make out the difference between a beaver and a muskrat, and many people err identifying them. This can easily be seen on the Internet. Muskrats are quite a bit smaller, but that isn’t much help to the casual observer. There is, however, one very obvious difference. While both animals have a flattened tail, the beaver’s tail is flattened horizontally, the muskrat’s tail is flattened vertically and -in relative terms- it isn’t quite as flat as a beaver’s.
A frequent visitor of Toronto’s beautiful Tommy Thompson Park, I was fortunate enough to see a muskrat on several occasions, including last Wednesday, 23 November. Better still, I saw two of them together, as shown in some of the pictures.
At one point, I was even able to see three swimming muskrats at the same time. Unfortunately, it was already quite late and the low-light conditions made it impossible to make a palatable picture. Nevertheless, I cropped it to make it as easy as possible to spot them. There is one near the bottom, one near the upper left corner and one near the upper right corner of the last picture in the series.
Muskrats are incredibly successful and fascinating animals, Hinterland Who’s Who has quite a bit of information on them, should you want to learn more.
And next time you go out to a body of water, have a good look around. You might see a muskrat. Or two. If not, go to Tommy Thompson Park. That might make the search easier, since you already know that they are there.