How to Trap A Muskrat?

How to Trap A Muskrat

Muskrats are interesting animals that have the ability to live on land and in water, (although they prefer water) and also build dams underwater leading to the surface. These intricate burrows can be highly destructive to residential properties, so I can understand why you want them gone.

If you want to trap a muskrat that is becoming a nuisance in your area, here’s what you do:

  1. Choose the proper trap: you have three choices
    • Leg trap
    • Body grip
    • Live trap
  2. Decide where to place the trap:
    • Along their muskrat run (their underwater path to dry land), or
    • Near their burrow entrance
  3. Bait the trap
    • Use a root vegetables like potato, or crunchy fruit like an apple
    • Position the bait in the center of the trap to avoid the animal reaching in and grabbing it.
  4. Set the trap
    • The trap door should be open, and facing the burrow entrance or muskrat run
    • Make sure no debris is blocking the door from closing, and nothing is jamming the trigger.
  5. Check the trap: peek in about every couple of hours to see if you successfully captured the animal.
  6. Yay, you’ve caught the muskrat!
    • Calmly approach the cage or trap
    • Place a sheet on the cage to keep the animal calm
    • (If it’s legal) transport the animal between five and ten miles away from your home, or call Animal Control for proper pick-up and relocation.

Muskrats tend to stay to themselves and avoid human contact. But how can we avoid them if they are causing property damage, or creating a disturbance to our local ecosystem? This may be the case for you, and there are some key features about muskrats that you should know before attempting to trap one.

What Is The Best Bait To Trap Muskrats?

Occasionally during the winter, they will eat crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects, and slow-moving fish; but muskrats are predominantly omnivores, and love to feast on plants and vegetation. Because of the strength and sharpness of their teeth, Muskrats favorite foods tend to be starchy foods or simple plants like:

  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Water Lilies
  • Sledges
  • Cattails
  • Clover
  • Switchgrass
  • Wild rice
  • Arrow head
  • Parsnip

The musk of another muskrat is also another option as bait. It’s not the best choice because it will attract the same problem that you’re trying to get rid of, but it’s still an option.

Even certain scents like oil of Anise is a great attractant for muskrats. The goal when baiting is to use the correct bait to lure the muskrat completely into the cage. So whatever you see or notice the muskrat eating, use that as your primary bait. If you’re not sure, this list of goods should do the trick.

Want more tips for best bait practices? No problem!

  • Create a small trail of bait that will lead to the inside of the cage.
  • Place a heavy object on top of the cage to keep it from being knocked over by the elements, or another animal.
  • Be sure that the bait is positioned well, and will not lodge between the door, or jam the trigger.

What Is The Best Way To Catch A Muskrat?

The best way to catch a muskrat is by trapping them with either a live or lethal cage. Muskrats are semi-aquatic animals, and spend the majority of their time in water, traveling back and forth between rivers and the land.

Use these tactics to successfully capture your pesky muskrat

  • Pick your trap: you have three different choices: a leg trap, body trap, or live cage.
    1. Leg trap: a circular device that closes shut on the animals’ foot when it passes over it.
    2. Body trap: a large flat trap that crushes the muskrat as soon as it’s in the center of the trap.
    3. Live trap: a self-closing cage with either one or two doors for easy access

* Both a leg and body traps are lethal *

  • Determine the trap’s placement: here are two prime choices
    1. Set it along the travel path of the muskrat, on a bank or the perimeter of a waterway.
    2. Place it a couple of feet away from their burrow entrance (a hole with mud in front of it, or surrounding it.) This option is easier to set up.
  • Bait your trap
    1. Use crunchy or starchy vegetables and fruit. A few examples include:
      • Apples
      • Parsnip
  • Fully set your trap
    1. First, place your trap at the beginning or end of the slide set, or trail, of the muskrat
    2. The cage should be parallel with the width of the trail
    3. Open the cage door
    4. Bait the trap with the muskrat’s favorite food. Use string to hold the bait on the cage (if the cage is submerged in water.)
    5. To trap a muskrat underwater, fully submerge the trap two-to-three inches under the water, near the entrance of their slide, to stealthily disguise the cage. Use a piece of string and a weight to hold the cage beneath the water
    6. Check periodically on the cage and animal. Muskrats can become anxious if trapped for too long, thus, making them more aggressive towards you when you approach them.
  • Congratulations, your muskrat is successfully caught!
    1. Now place a sheet or blanket over the cage to keep the animal calm.
  • Once the muskrat is captured, you have two options for relocation:
    1. Transport the muskrat to a woodland area with lots of food, moisture, and a body of water (check with your local laws to see if this action is legal.)
    2. If it is illegal to transport the animal yourself, simply contact Animal Control, and they will be there to permanently rid you of your muskrat issue.

As previously mentioned, muskrats spend a lot of time in the water, so there may be a chance that you’ll end up with an aquatic trap. There are many entrapments that are available specifically for water-based muskrat sets.

How Do You Scare Away A Muskrat?

You tried baiting it…that didn’t work. Maybe you baited it well, and the mangy muskrat keeps taking the bait. When all else fails, scaring it away can work just as well as a trap or bait. But what are some muskrat repellents that actually work?

Alter Water Levels

If there isn’t enough water, muskrats cannot build their dams nor create proper burrows and den. Presuming you have control over the water level in your pond, draw the water level down to at least two feet below the normal standard.

If the pond is near your home, but you have no control over the water level, the next scare tactic is for you

Fencing

Create a fence around the areas that you want protected. Muskrats are swimmers, not climbers, so a fence is a great solution for keeping them out of ponds and waterways. Here are some tips:

  • The fence must surround the entire perimeter of the body of water in order to keep the muskrat completely out.
  • Since the fence will most likely go into the water, use post material that won’t erode quickly, like a metal T-post.
  • The best material to use for fencing out a muskrat is 1-inch hardwire mesh. Chicken wire is too thin, and the muskrat will most likely chew through it.
  • Place the posts at least three feet beneath the water to avoid burrowing, and at least one foot above the surface.

Although indiscreet, and sort of intrusive, creating a fence to protect your property is a safe and humane way of deterring a muskrat.

Electronic Repellents

Electronic repellents are best used after all of the muskrats have been collected and transported elsewhere. So once you’ve captured the nuisance, try setting up a repellent device to deter other muskrats from making the same mistake as the one you just trapped.

Consensus shows that the best electronic device to consider is a motion-activated sprinkler that quickly shoots out burst of water, which will ironically scare the muskrat out of your yard or garden.

The general instructions for setting up an motion-activated sensor:

  • Place each device about 30-35 feet away from each other
  • Position the sprinklers around the shoreline to deter the muskrats from entering the water
  • Point the motion sensor outward so it can detect upcoming invaders

Reduce Attracts

Such a simple solution, isn’t it? Getting rid of what makes the muskrats appear is one of the most significant, and cost-efficient ways to keep muskrats away. Muskrats love aquatic vegetation, which is another reason as to why they spend so much time submerged beneath the surface.

When reducing attracts, place emphasis on these treats:

  • Pond weeds
  • Arrowheads
  • Willow
  • Water lilies
  • Ferns
  • Cattails
  • Sedges
  • Rushes

By decreasing these attracts, they will have less of a reason to show up in your yard or pond; thus, creating less of a muskrat problem for you.

Predators

Although a tricky option, providing the muskrat with a predator will definitely scare it away from your property. Luckily, they have plenty of predators to choose from. Here’s a few:

  • Snapping turtle (best option because it’s an aquatic animal)
  • Weasels
  • Otters
  • Fox
  • Coyote

These are the most prominent muskrat predators that can get the job done.

Flipside to the coin: using a predator to successfully deter the muskrat away could cause another problem…the predator then becomes a pest, and you now have to get them out too!

Although an option, I don’t recommend it as an efficient solution.

Do Muskrats Bite?

Yes, biting is their number one form of defense. When an animal or human is too close to the muskrat, or makes it feel pressured and threatened, they are known to become physically assertive in order to defend their lives.

Fun Fact! Despite their smaller stature, they are well equipped and strategic enough to fight a dog, and win! There have been several cases of muskrat bites reported to Animal Control over the years.

You want to take real caution when attempting to handle a muskrat because muskrats are known to carry disease. They eat and drink directly from the earth; and the earth is filled with animal feces, urine, and animal hairs, which is how they obtain most of these diseases.

And yes, Rabies, is one of the diseases that muskrats carry.

These bacteria are usually spread via biological fluid like blood or saliva. Which is why it is imperative to take precautions when caging a muskrat. Be sure to wear heavy-duty gloves, and cover the trap with blanket once the animal is caught. It will keep them calm enough to not try and strike you.

Are Muskrats Aggressive?

Yes, muskrats are aggressive. As stated earlier, muskrats do what they must to refrain from contact with any predators, including humans. So when they are approached by one, they are known to become feisty, and will use their body as a weapon of defense.

Although one of their primary tools for fighting is escape, if that doesn’t work, muskrats will use their sharp claws that they use for burrowing, to dig and scratch at you. Their nails are pointy and slender, about an inch long, which is perfect to create a clean cut that will draw blood, if successful.

Most attacks are due to a predator trying to invade their burrows. They are very territorial animals.

Muskrats also become aggressive during their time of gestation. Because the mother is pregnant, she becomes irritable due to hormonal fluctuation. They are monogamous creatures, and the male will become very assertive if you try to harm its mate and babies.

Are Muskrats Afraid Of Humans?

Well, there are two sides to this coin. No, muskrats are not afraid of humans; however, we can scare them.

Heads: they are not afraid of humans. Muskrats spend their days eating, and building dams and burrows. At no point in time does a human cross their minds because we are not a daily part of their routine. So since we’re not their mind, they are not concerned about our well-being.

Tails: humans certainly do scare muskrats. The animals are natural-born eco-architects, and have no intentional means to cause harm. Although unintentional, their organic habit of eating vegetation, developing underground canals, and building dams causes a disruption in our human environment.

Because of the significant damage that they can cause to our crops, water lines, and property foundation, we humans tend to prey on these animals by killing them, or causing disturbance to their livelihood.

Did you know that there is a muskrat trapping season in Connecticut?

Imagine if there were a trapping season for humans? That would scare us, big time. Muskrats can become very defensive when it comes to humans, which is why it’s important to keep calm while approaching the caged muskrat. Limiting physical harm is the goal during capture and transfer.

Do Muskrats Attack Humans?

Yes, muskrats will attack a human, if they are provoked. Muskrats care about all of the work that they put into their burrows, canals, and dams, and will defend it at all cost. The most prominent reason for a muskrat attacking you is home invasion.

Excess heat can also be a determining factor of whether or not a muskrat will attack you. On very hot days, a muskrats’ body temperature can raise almost a little higher than a human, which is another reason as to why they love the water so much. But just like we get irritable, so will they.

With that being said, trapping your muskrat will definitely become a problem for them, and they will most likely attack you with a swipe of their claws, or a bite with their strong incisors. To protect yourself while trapping, wear heavy-duty gloves, and maybe even pants and a long-sleeve shirt to combat against scratches and bites, and prevent possible infection.

Do Muskrats Chew Wood?

Muskrats mostly chew on food that they will actually ingest, like aquatic vegetation, fruits, and vegetables, but not necessarily wood. People have the misconception that muskrats chew on wood because they swim and build lodges and dams, and are probably mistaking the muskerat for a beaver.

They have been known to have sticks in their mouth, or simply sit around a group of wood. That’s their building material for their new home (hopefully not in your backyard.) They stack the pieces of wood together to build an elevated mound to protect their hole, and to defend themselves against predators.

Can Muskrats Run Fast?

No, muskrats are not fast runners; however, they can run, and are quite agile.

This is good news! Now you know you won’t have to expend too much effort to catch it! Muskrats have very little feet with long nails attached to them. This feature is great for defense, and gripping the ground for cutting corners, but slows down the animal at the same time.

Another reason for their lack of running is due to their excessive swimming. Muskrats spend most of the day in marshes and other typical bodies of water. They are amazing swimmers, and their legs suffer from that because they don’t get used very often on land.

In addition, when a muskrat does have to run – from something trying to trap capture it – it simply scurries into the water and submerges itself as deep as it can go. Therefore, running on land is possible, but not the strongest feature for any muskrat

How Long Can Muskrats Stay Underwater?

Land may be a secondary environment for these animals, but they thrive in the water. Muskrats are capable of staying submerged underwater for about 20 minutes! Contrary to popular belief, they do not have gills, and cannot breathe underwater, they simply hold their breath!

They are capable of staying underwater for so long for several reasons.

First, they have flaps over their nose, mouth, and ears to protect the orifices from filling up with water. Next, their body is designed to handle a build-up of carbon dioxide, the particle that we breathe out when we exhale. They also have a membrane in front of their eyes that closes, and protects them when they go into the water.

They get a lot of practice swimming around, considering that they start swimming a couple of weeks after birth. Swimming helps them to develop their webbed feet that they use to push themselves through their wet home, and makes their tail stronger by using it as a rudder. Because of their strength, they can swim beneath the surface at speeds reaching approximately three miles an hour.

Fun fact! Did you know that muskrats can swim backwards?!

Are Muskrats Blind?

At birth, yes they are. Newborn muskrats are born blind, and stay blind until about two week after birth. Muskrats have the typical vision of any animal; however, their vision during the day is probably not as good at night.

Muskrats are nocturnal animals, meaning that they are most active between the hours of dawn and dusk. Because they are so used to roaming and eating during the dark hours, their eyes adjust to it without a problem.

The problem occurs during the day time. Although they may occasionally go out during daylight – for a meal or to escape a predator – they refrain from it as much as possible. The eyes are set for very little light, and the sun tends to conflict with their vision.

This fact makes them easy targets for predators like you and me to capture them when they least expect it! This conflict will cause them to run back to darkened areas such as underwater, or their burrow. With that being said, the best time to check your trap for your captured muskrat is within the hour of dawn and dusk, or simply at night.

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Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare

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