Common Muskrat

Muskrat swimming.
Credit: D. Robertson



  • Common name: Common Muskrat
  • Scientific name: Ondatra zibethicus
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Family: Cricetidae
  • Indigenous names for this species may be available through the Yukon Native Language Centre

Also known as

Muskrat, water rat

Viewing opportunities

  • Muskrats can be found in ponds, small lakes and slow moving streams with plenty of aquatic plants.
  • Muskrats swim quietly with only their heads and back above water, similar to beavers.
  • In winter, look for dome-shaped "pushups" of aquatic vegetation in the ice.


  • Dark brown fur.
  • Long, hairless tail that is scaly, black, and flattened.
  • Plump body, small ears, and beady eyes.
  • Similar in appearance to beavers but much smaller.

Fast facts

  • Length: 50 cm
  • Weight: 1 kg
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Predators: Mink, otters, foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, humans
  • Habitat: Ponds, small lakes, and slow moving streams

Conservation status

What is conservation status?

  • Yukon: S4S5 (Apparently secure/Secure)
  • Global: G5 (Secure)

Yukon population estimate

Not determined.


Muskrats spend much of their life in water, similar to beavers. They often build houses from mud and aquatic vegetation on the edges of ponds or wetlands, or live in burrows dug into river banks. Muskrats do not build dams. In winter, muskrats build “pushups” of frozen vegetation covering a hole in the ice. They keep these holes open throughout winter by chewing away the ice and bringing up underwater vegetation to build an insulated feeding station over the ice. Muskrats live in family groups and they are most active at night and during twilight.


Pondweeds, reeds and water milfoil and horsetails.


Common Muskrat distribution map.

Sights and sounds

Muskrat track, front.
Muskrat track, front: 3.3 x 3.0 cm.

Muskrat track, hind.
Muskrat track, hind: 3.3 x 4.0 cm.

Muskrat pushup.

Muskrats and people

  • Muskrats are especially important to the Vuntut Gwich'in of Old Crow and have provided up to 3/4 of their annual fur harvest income.
  • Spring "ratting" is also a social event and part of the traditional lifestyle of many Yukon First Nations. It presents opportunities for whole families to get out on the land, celebrate spring’s arrival, and hunt other game, such as waterfowl and caribou.