Muskrats are large rodents that live in wetlands and near rivers. They are covered in thick, brown fur and have long, bald tails covered in scales. Muskrats use their webbed hind feet to swim. These aquatic mammals live in large social groups and raise their young together. Muskrats can stay under water for 15 minutes, during which they may hunt or play. Baby muskrats are born bald and stay in the nest for two weeks before learning to swim and find food.
Muskrats are born in litters of three or more. For the first two weeks of their lives, infant muskrats nurse from their mothers. Due to the large size of litters, baby muskrats must vie for position when feeding, and the stronger infants may end up healthier than their smaller siblings. Mother muskrats must feed regularly in order to produce milk for their young. Although male muskrats protect the nest, they don't help raise babies.
Baby muskrats venture from the nest when their fur grows in after two weeks. Mother muskrats teach their young by example how to forage for the roots and plants that compose much of the muskrat diet. Most local water plants are edible to muskrats; cattails, pond weed, waterlilies and other local plants are their main food sources. Baby muskrats must learn which plants are best to eat and how to dig up the roots.
Muskrats also eat meat. Baby muskrats learn to find and eat dead animals and insects after two weeks of age. Dead fish already beginning to decompose attract muskrats, as do more recently killed fish. Leftover meat from other predators' kills is edible to muskrats. Baby muskrats learn which meat is good to eat and how to find it early in life as they mature quickly. Scavenging supplies muskrats with protein.
When baby muskrats leave the nest at two weeks of age they must learn to hunt to survive. Mother muskrats teach their young to hunt by example. Muskrats can eat insects found near water, as well as animals such as crayfish that are found in marshy environments. Reptiles such as frogs and fast-moving fish are difficult for young muskrats to catch. Learning to hunt efficiently is important for baby muskrats to survive to adulthood.
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