Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents that mostly live in wetlands and swamps. These tiny critters are omnivores meaning they eat both plants and animals. Though they primarily eat aquatic plants.
But do muskrats eat fish? In their natural environment, muskrats primarily eat aquatic plants. Their diet consists of 95% vegetation such as cattails, rushes, and water lilies. However, muskrats also eat small aquatic animals, including frogs, fish, crayfish, freshwater mussels, shrimp, and small turtles.
Though small, muskrats can eat one-third of their body weight in food daily and can easily clean a smaller pond. Keep reading to learn what muskrats eat and how to protect the fish in your pond from muskrats.
What Do Muskrats Eat?
While muskrats are omnivores, the bulk of their diet consists of plants. However, you won’t find these rodents eating just about any type of plant.
Muskrats primarily eat aquatic plants. In fact, cattail, a reed-like plant that grows close to water, is the muskrat’s favorite type of food.
Besides cattails, muskrats will also eat water lilies, pondweeds, rushes, and sedges. But when these aren’t available, muskrats won’t think twice about sneaking into a garden and eating their fill.
Though 95% of muskrats’ diet consists of vegetation, the remaining 5% is made mainly of small aquatic creatures found in their habitats. The most common examples of these freshwater creatures include small fish, frogs, small turtles, crayfish, and freshwater mussels.
Will Muskrats Eat the Fish in My Pond?
Muskrats can create a lot of problems in urban and decorative ponds. These rodents often damage shorelines or man-made structures like dams and dikes while burrowing to nest.
Muskrats may also eat your fish, besides eating aquatic vegetation inside a pond. This is the most likely scenario if there is more than one muskrat in a small body of water, like a pond.
The only situation where the fish in your pond may be spared is if you have a problem with too many water lilies or cattails. Muskrats devour vast amounts of aquatic vegetation and can help control undesired plant populations.
However, once they run out of aquatic plants to chew, muskrats will start eating fish in your pond.
List of Foods that Muskrats Eat
As omnivores, muskrats eat a lot of different plants and small freshwater animals. Listed below are foods muskrats like eating the most.
Rushes are erect perennial plants that resemble grasses and sedges. They often grow in a wide range of moist conditions on infertile soils. The largest and best-known genus is Juncus which only thrives in wetland conditions.
Rushes have unjoined, cylindrical, and erect stems. The well-developed leaves are evergreen and grow one-third of the way around the stem from the previous leaf.
Sedges are grass-like plants often grouped alongside other ornamental grasses and rushes. However, all of these plants are botanically different.
Sedges are a big and diverse family of plants that consists of several thousand species and varieties. Sedges are easily identified by their stem shape, which is triangular when cut. Sedges have small brown or black flowers that bloom on slender stems.
There are more than 110 different types of pondweeds divided into six genres (source). Pondweeds are one of the most important plant groups in the aquatic environment because they serve as a source of food and habitat for many different aquatic animals.
Depending on the type, pondweeds can be rooted plants that grow along the shoreline or floating plants found in shallow waters.
Water lily is a family of flowering freshwater plants native to temperate and tropical parts of the world. Water lilies are rooted in soil in bodies of water while their leaves and flowers are floating on the surface.
Water lilies serve as a source of food for fish and other wildlife. Though often used as ornamental plants, water lilies can create draining problems due to their fast growth.
Muskrats will eat fish only after they clear most of the aquatic vegetation. Due to their size, muskrats can only eat small fish, like koi.
Any type of large and predatory fish like largemouth bass or catfish is too big of an opponent for a small rodent like a muskrat.
Freshwater mussels and freshwater snails are one kind of freshwater bivalves. These species can vary in size, making a protein-rich meal for hungry muskrats.
Freshwater mussels can be found in many types of habitats, ranging from small ponds and ditches to lakes, canals, rivers, and swamps.
Cattail is a family of many tall, marshy plants found chiefly in temperate and cold regions. Considered an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant, cattail inhabits fresh or slightly brackish waters.
Cattails are essential to wildlife as they serve as food and habitat for many species. These tall and tapering plants grow from starchy rhizomes, eaten in some places.
Ways To Protect Your Fish from Muskrats
Muskrats are becoming increasingly common in urban areas as more and more wetlands are being destroyed by human expansion. If muskrats have found a way to your pond, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Place a wire or mesh liner in your pond or along the shores of your pond to prevent muskrats from burrowing inside the lake
- Cover your pond with a small floating net to prevent muskrats from getting inside your pond
- Set up live traps using tasty and calorie-rich foods to catch muskrats before they cause damage to your pond
Muskrats are omnivores, but they prefer eating aquatic plants. Besides cattail, their favorite food, muskrats also love eating rushes, water lilies, pondweeds, and sedges.
However, muskrats will also eat small fish, snails, freshwater mussels, frogs, or small turtles when aquatic plants are sparse. Use mesh liners or small floating netting to get rid of muskrats in your pod and discourage them from getting inside your pond.