MUSK-RAT, or MUSQUASH, the name of a large North American rat-like rodent mammal, technically known as Fiber zibethicus, and belonging to the mouse-tribe (Muridae). Aquatic in habits, this animal is related to the English water-rat and therefore included in the sub-family Microtinae (see VOLE). It is, however, of larger size, the head and body being about 1 2 in.
The Musk-rat (Fiber zibelhicus).
in length and the tail but little less. It is rather a heavilybuilt animal, with a broad head, no distinct neck, and short limbs, the eyes are small, and the ears project very little beyond the fur. The fore-limbs have four toes and a rudimentary thumb, all with claws; the hind limbs are larger, with five distinct toes, united by short webs at their bases. The tail is laterally compressed, nearly naked, and scaly. The hair much resembles that of a beaver, but is shorter; it consists of a thick soft underfur, interspersed with longer stiff, glistening hairs, which oveilie and conceal the former, on the upper surface and sides of the MUSK-SHREW MUSPRATT, J.
body. The general colour is dark umber-brown, almost black on the back and grey below. The tail and naked parts of the feet are black. The musky odour from which it derives its name is due to the secretion of a large gland situated in the inguinal region, and present in both sexes.
The ordinary musk-rat is one of several species of a genus peculiar to America, where it is distributed in suitable localities in the northern part of the continent, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Rio Grande to the barren grounds bordering the Arctic seas. It lives on the shores of lakes and rivers, swimming and diving with facility, feeding on the roots, stems and leaves of water-plants, or on fruits and vegetables which grow near the margin of the streams it inhabits. Musk-rats are most active at night, spending the greater part of the day concealed in their burrows in the bank, which consist of a chamber with numerous passages, all of which open under the surface of the water. For winter quarters they build more elaborate houses of conical or dome-like form, composed of sedges, grasses and similar materials plastered together with mud. As their fur is an important article of commerce, large numbers are annually killed, being either trapped or speared at the mouths of their holes. (See also RODENTIA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)