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Nature Notebook – Beaver and Muskrat Coexistence

The marsh at Sarett’s Brown Sanctuary is the setting for two animal species “helping” each other. Muskrats and beavers prefer to live in wetland areas where the water level stays constant. Beavers can build dams to ensure a steady water depth. Muskrats can’t. Their territory benefits from the beaver’s presence.

Muskrats, with their small, slender bodies, can easily navigate the cattail forest that grows in a marsh. The much larger beaver cannot. As the muskrats feed on cattails they clear channels that the beaver can easily navigate.

Both of the rodents build lodges using marsh materials. Muskrats pile up plants, such as cattails, and add a bit of mud to hold everything together. Beavers use a lot of mud to glue branch pieces together. Occasionally a muskrat may take up residence in a beaver dam. Since another pair of watchful eyes is always welcome, the muskrat’s presence is tolerated by the beaver family.

Although both species are both active in the evening they stay out of each other’s way. Muskrats sit on their feeding platforms munching on plants collected in the marsh. Beavers move to the shore, take down trees surrounding the marsh then munch on the delectable branches and twigs.