Round-tailed Muskrat …. finally

I moved to the USA six years ago and one of the very first trips I took was with John Fox to look for Round-tailed Muskrats in Georgia. We didn’t see one. Nor did I see one over the course of several trips to West Palm Beach, two to Orlando and at least three to the Jacksonville area. I must have spent over 100 hours looking for this species and not gotten close.

In 2016, Scott Flamand, who was aware of my neofiber-frustration, sent me a photo of an animal he’d seen near his home in Gaynesville, Florida. Round-tailed Muskrats were, Scott told me, being seen quite regularly at the new Sweetwater Wetlands Reserve. I went up three months later to see Scott …. but it was a couple of months too late. While the animals were pretty easy to spot in January and February, when the wetland vegetation was relatively sparse, they are much harder to find during the rest of the year when there is much more vegatation cover.

I couldn’t get down last year, but I returned last weekend to stay with Scott and spent eight hours on Saturday, and another three on Sunday, staring into the reeds.

The wetlands are a popular destination (both with birders and familes out for a stroll). They are bursting with avian life along with alligators, turtles, and mammals too: I had a nice look at a Bobcat there back in 2016, and people reported seeing River Otters while I was there at the weekend. There are also Marsh Rice Rats, Bison, feral pigs and horses.

Round-tailed Muskrat lodge

Round-tailed Muskrat lodge

But Scott and I only had eyes for the muskrats. We decided to stake out two active muskrat lodges close to the boardwalk. The lodges, though distinctive when you spot them, don’t stand out all that well: they are nothing more than a scruffy nest of vegetation about 50% bigger than a bowling ball.

I am not sure if this is standard muskrat building code, but both of the lodges we were staking out comprised two nests a metre or so apart.

Round-tailed Muskrat lodges

Round-tailed Muskrat lodges

Although Round-tailed Muskrats are predominantly crepuscular/nocturnal they are occasionally active in the day. A local birder told me he had seen them on cold windy days and bright sunny days recently but they were “very hit and miss”. He also said that you might more often notice the reeds moving under the water, or hear the animals chewing on vegetation, than see the creatures themselves.

Scott spotted some movement by a lodge at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning but didn’t see an animal. The wetlands close at sunset and, right on sunset, one of the lodges started moving and shortly afterwards we saw a brown back glide jerkily through the water for a couple of seconds before submerging. A muskrat, but a far from satisfactory look. And there was no chance of getting a better look as the ranger arrived a minute later to politely let us know it was past closing time.

I returned at 7 a.m. the next morning and at 9 a.m. heard a distinctive munching noise coming from close the boardwalk on the opposite side to a lodge. Five minutes later a Round-tailed Muskrat surfaced below me and carried on feeding long enough for me to grab a couple of bad photos.

Round-tailed Muskrat, Neofiber alleni

Round-tailed Muskrat, Neofiber alleni

Perhaps not the most exciting mammal of my life, but one of the most time consuming and one that is strangely fascinating for a few of us I know. At least they are in a genus of their own.

Thank you very much to Scott Flamand for his generous hospitality (again!) and the effort he put in to helping me find a muskrat.

Jon

6 Comments
  1. Judy Leitch 3 weeks ago

    What a great find!

  2. Venkat Sankar 3 weeks ago

    Congrats! That’s a lot of attempts for one animal… One more piece of evidence that there’s a site for every species 🙂

  3. Mike Richardson 3 weeks ago

    It’s certainly one of my most wanted US mammals, and one I’ve spent time looking for (although nowhere close to 100 hours!). Congratulations Jon

  4. Curtis Hart 3 weeks ago

    I wouldn’t say I’ve spent 100 hours looking specifically, but I’ve spent well over a 100 hours at Payne’s Prairie while living in Gainesville at various times. I still haven’t seen one. Congratulations!!!

  5. Andrew Block 3 weeks ago

    Very cool animal. Would love to see one. Now I know where and when to go:-)

  6. mattinidaho 2 weeks ago

    Well done, Jon. A unique and interesting mammal. You are really getting ticking off the North America species, even the tough ones…

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