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Bygones of Monroe:

Muskrat Tracks Easy to Follow

Monroe Evening News, Feb. 16, 1978, pg. 9A

By O.B. Eustis

Muskrat tracks are easy to identify because they often show tail drag marks. The only other animals that commonly show narrow tail marks are the common rat and several kinds of mice. Muskrat tracks are much wider, about 3 ½ inches straddle.

The other day after light snow, I found a pair of tracks leading over our dam to the manhole of the pond drain pipe. The muskrats had entered the manhole and swam out under the ice. My dog located them a few minutes later in a burrow 20 feet from the bank. The ground was too frozen for him to dig them out, but his nose is infallible. The rats may have found a haven for the winter.

Several years ago our pond held a good muskrat population. They built huts in the inlet marsh and dug several bank burrows. We welcomed trappers to keep the population under control. For the past three years our resident mink has handled the job. There may have been other population control factors, but we found plenty of evidence that mink were getting the young rats. This spring the rats completely vacated our pond.

During the summer drought muskrats established regular runways over the dam to feed on the ponds lush cattails and reeds. They returned to the river. The few river rats we saw feeding on our duck corn disappeared before freeze up. We didn't see any muskrat signs for months. Again I think our mink was responsible.

Currently she has a mate. We see the pair of tracks, large and small, up and down the river bank and by all the likely hunting spots. Mink travel a lot when hunting. I have tracked this pair far inland. Sometimes they play like otters; slide on the ice and tunnel under the snow. Courting's fun.

The river has stayed open, and that's where the mink live. I think the extra hunting pressure is what made the two muskrats leave. They came 200 yards up the outlet streamlet and found the ponds only ice free entrance. There are several burrows with underwater entrances and plenty of succulent stems and roots under the ice.

Even if the mink enter the pond I think the muskrats are safe. They are as big as the mink (bigger than the female). It would take a pretty hungry mink to tackle and adult muskrat head to head in its burrow. I don't think ours will try. There is plenty of easier food.

I hope the muskrat population builds a little. They are interesting to watch and help control aquatic vegetables. If they just wouldn't dig holes in the dam they would always be welcome. Of course, they don't know this - just one more communication gap we have with wildlife.

Monroe Evening News, Feb. 16, 1978, pg. 9A

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