Perhaps one of the most frustrating things that pond owners encounter are nuisance animals, and one of the most common trouble makers are muskrats. Although these little critters may look cute and cuddly, they can make a big mess of your pond in no time at all.
If you notice signs of a muskrat, it is best to take action immediately. Muskrats almost always come in pairs, and are prolific breeders. Muskrats can have between two and five litters in a year, and they average about four to eight pups in a litter, so what may start as a small problem can get out of control in a hurry.
Common Signs You Have a Muskrat Problem
One of the easiest ways to know that your pond problems are being caused by muskrats is, of course, to actually see the rodent. But since they’ll be doing their best to stay out of your way, the next best identifier is tracks. Muskrats have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet. You should be able to see claw marks, and there will be a visible line from their dragging tail in between the prints. Muskrats eat a lot of vegetation, so keep an eye out for gnawed off cattails, or other chewed up pond weeds. Also look for burrow entrances. Although they can be difficult to spot (they may be under water) they are important to find. They may cause a pond leak, or even worse, they may cause the pond bank to collapse.
Getting Rid of Problem Muskrats
Unfortunately, once a muskrats has made your pond their home, it can be very difficult to convince them to leave. You can attempt to remove the vegetation that they feed on, such as cattails and other pond weeds, but that is not always possible. It is also time consuming, and you may be removing a habitat for other critters (such as your fish) in the process.
Body Grip Traps
The most effective solution is trapping. There are multiple types of traps, but probably the most user friendly and effective are body grip traps. These are also a more humane kill trap, as they kill the animal quickly. For an animal the size of a muskrat, you will want to use a #110 body grip. These traps can be set outside of a bank den entrance, or across a muskrat run. A muskrat run is a worn path to the water. Muskrats tend to travel the same routes, so these will begin to appear shortly after the muskrats do. It is important to remember that there is almost always more than one muskrat, so continuing to set traps even after you catch one is vital. Keep setting traps until you no longer see signs of the muskrats.
For those who are uncomfortable setting traps that will kill the animal, live traps (also called box traps) are also an option. These can be set near muskrat runs, but you will have to use some sort of lure. There are different lures available to purchase, or you can use carrots, apples or other fruits and veggies with an appealing scent. If you choose this method however, keep in mind that transporting the animal somewhere else can create a problem for another pond owner. It is also illegal to transport these animals in some places, so make sure to research what you can legally do in your area.
It is also important to take care not to accidentally trap any domestic or non-target animals. With the size of a small #110 body grip, it is unlikely that most other critters will fit, but caution is advised. Setting the traps at the burrow entrance is the safest way to do this, as other animals will not attempt to enter a burrow.