Although the muskrat is native to North America, it is an introduced species in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. In some European countries, such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the muskrat is considered an invasive pest, as its burrowing damages the dikes and levees on which these low-lying countries depend for protection from flooding. In those countries, the muskrat is trapped, poisoned, and hunted to attempt to keep the population down. Muskrats also eat corn and other farm and garden crops growing near water bodies, so they can be also considered pests by farmers.
The first step in preventing muskrat damage is learning how to identify it. Muskrat damage occurs as a result of their burrowing habits, and oftentimes the damage they cause is not very obvious until severe destruction occurs. This is why it’s important to understand how to identify muskrat burrows and other warning signs the offer.
Signs of a muskrat’s presence or damage include:
- muskrat tracks: four toes in front and five in the back with visible claws; visible tail mark in between prints;
- muskrat droppings on dry, elevated surfaces such as stumps, logs, rocks or feeding platforms;
- feeding platforms: elevated, flat pads of mud and vegetation;
- lodges: piles of mud and aquatic vegetation, up to 8 feet in width and 5 feet tall;
- muskrat burrow entrances: holes in backs or dams, about 6-8″ in diameter and up to 3 feet below water level;
- leaking ponds or dams due to burrowing;
- collapsed banks due to extensive burrowing.
Preventive methods to reduce the risk of muskrat infestation
Muskrats not only eat the grain on a farm, but they have also been known to plug the drain tiles on farms. They have a habit of building their homes around dikes and their dens make the dikes weak and eventually destroy their structure. In such cases this can weaken the bank, or livestock and other large animals can pierce holes in the bank, starting the erosion process. To prevent muskrats from tunneling higher in an embankment, keep fluctuations in water levels to a minimum. Water-level manipulation can also be used to force muskrats to other suitable habitats. Raising the water level in the winter to a near-flood level, and keeping it there, will force the animals out of their dens. Similarly, dropping water levels during the summer will expose muskrat dens to predators, forcing them to seek a more secure area.
If your yard contains a pond you wish to protect from muskrats, you will need to eliminate the muskrat’s food sources. They are known to relocate once their food source is depleted, and they aren’t likely to try to construct a new home where food is scarce. Although it may be difficult to completely eliminate available food, you can begin by targeting aquatic plants like arrowhead, cattail, ferns, pond weeds, sedges and water lilies.
The next step you need to take is to build a fence from 1-inch mesh around ponds or other bodies of water. Make sure to bury the fence at least 1 foot into the bank of the pond to prevent the animal from burrowing under it. It only needs to be 2 feet tall. Another preventive measure is hinder the the muskrats’ chances of burrowing, by keeping the weeds and grass around water banks mowed and short. This animal prefers ground cover for its burrowing, so if you line the bank with fine mesh or dig a trench in the bank and fill it with a cement mixture, it will prevent the muskrat from burrowing in the banks.
As they are wary animals, muskrats will try to escape when threatened. When new burrows are discovered early on, the entry holes can be stuffed no only with rocks, but also with balled-up window screen, and/or rags sprinkled with predator urine or ammonia. In this sense, some people have had success applying used cat litter in the dens they discovered. Exposing their tunnels from above may also work. The success of this type of control depends on the level of persistence of the harasser and thus is often short-lived. Should you also have a dog that is awake during the night in your yard, you can also keep muskrats away through this method, as they will flee at the sight of this predator.
A different method of preventing a muskrat infestation is by using repellents such as motion-activated sprinklers. Position them around the entire perimeter of your pond or waterway, as they will be activated when they will perceive muskrat activity and release startling bursts of water to scare off the pests. Be sure to place each repellent properly in order to discourage muskrats from approaching the target areas. Some examples of placement include:
- the back corners of your garden;
- around the perimeter of an un-fenced property;
- at each entryway to your property, structure or damage area;
- in front of a muskrat burrow;
- beside your trash cans.
To prevent future damage of your pond, and repel them from making homes on your property, take measures to make the muskrats’ burrows inhospitable, as this is the best solution you can apply. It is known that muskrats search for a different dwelling area if they do not have enough food in one place. During the early winter, you can also draw down pond water to at least two feet below normal levels. Then fill the muskrats’ dens and burrows with heavy rock and catch any remaining muskrats with traps. You can find details regarding these in our article about how to get rid of muskrats by using baiting and trapping measures. Also you can find details about applying lethal control in order to exterminate a muskrat infestation in your yard, near your pond and crops.