A Pool Party in the Middle of Winter?
by Kennedy Zittel, Woodland Dunes intern
The temperature was around 10℉ as the wind blew cold snow across the boardwalk. Even though the air was frigid the other interns and I were on a mission to go down Cattail Trail to see if we could find any new tracks or other animal sightings. As we rounded a bend we heard a splashing noise where an underground spring keeps water from fully freezing. As we crept closer, to our surprise, a small furry ball was splashing around in the freezing water as if it was a summer pool party. Even with my full winter gear on I was still chilled, I couldn’t even imagine being in water…Brr! For the muskrat though, it was no big deal at all.
Muskrats have two layers of fur that provide protection from cold water. Their rat-like tails are covered in scales rather than hair, which they use to propel through water. Muskrats spend most of their time in the water regardless of the season. They can even stay under water for around 12-17 minutes! Muskrats can also close their ears when they swim to keep water out. Muskrats create trails through marshes that even when the water freezes they can continue to follow underneath the ice. Instead of storing food for the winter, they go out and find food each day or eat part of the house that they made out of cattails. About 95% of their diet is composed of plants, mainly cattails, and the rest of their diet is made up of small animals like frogs and fish.
We watched the muskrat rip up some cattail from below the water and use its little hands to hold the stalk as it munched away. Though we were trying very hard to stand still and be quiet, I am sure it heard the occasional boot shuffle or sniffle. Whether it be that the muskrat was very brave, or that it just trusted that we did not want to take its meal nor make a meal out of it, the muskrat did not stop munching. Our hands were beginning to turn bright red as we held tightly onto our phones to take pictures and videos of the little animal. We knew that we were not going to be able to stay out there for much longer. Unlike the muskrat, our layers were not enough to keep us warm. A distant car honked its horn and that was enough to send the muskrat diving under the ice out of sight which allowed us to go scurrying back to the warm nature center!
Though most people would not find a muskrat to be the most exciting of sightings, I was still grateful that I got to see a glimpse into its life in that moment. No matter how much I read or have learned about in school, nothing ever compares to getting to witness things in person. I am always thankful and appreciative that I get to see things here that some people never get to see, whether it be a muskrat munching, bald eagles soaring in the skies, or well camouflage weasels. Cattail Trail is one of our more popular trails that visitors use, and it is no wonder why! Each time I go I end up seeing animals, plants, tracks, and beautiful sunrises. The trick is to walk down it quietly, and bring very warm gloves!
Photos by Kennedy Zeitel, Muskrat on Cattail Trail