Taxonomy

Ondatra zibethicus | Musk Rat | Muscfhrancach

Distribution

Status

Conservation status

Least Concern

Legal status

Third Schedule listed species under Regulations 49 & 50 in the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. (Note: Regulation 50 not yet enacted).

Regulated invasive  species of Union concern under the European Regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species [No. 1143/2014].

Native status

Non-native        

First reported in the wild

1929

Invasiveness

Invasive species - risk of High Impact

Irish status

Present in the wild

Introduction pathways - 1

Escape from Confinement

Invasive score

22

Species Biology

Identification

Large, brown, stocky aquatic mammal, weighing up to 2kg, with a large head, short round ears, long hairless flattened tail (Genovesi, 2009).

Ecology


Omnivorous they feed on a variety of aquatic and semi aquatic vegetation and crops, though they will feed on crayfish, mussels, frogs and fish, in areas where aquatic vegetation is scarce (Genovesi, 2009). The impact of muskrats on aquatic vegetation can lead to declines in waterfowl due to loss of nesting habitat, and on various prey species (particularly mussels) in areas where aquatic vegetation is lacking (Genovesi, 2009). The main impacts on economic activites is through burrowing damaging river and railway banks, dams and damage to crops, with annual costs in Germany estimated at €12.4 million (Genovesi, 2009).

There appears to be a strong negative correlation between the presence of the America mink (Neovison vison) and muskrat in Poland, with the number of sites inhabited by muskrats decreasing from 44-7% over a ten year period (Brzezinski et al., 2010). While a study of historic population trends between mink and muskrat in their native range revealed a 8-9 year predator prey cycle (Erb et al., 2001), this has not been observed in Europe to date (Brzezinski et al., 2010).

Habitat

Inland surface water habitats, Mire, bogs and fen, Heath, scrubland and tundra

Reproduction

Sexually mature at 1 year of age, average of 2-3 litters per year of 5-6 pups (Genovesi, 2009).

Pathway and vector description

Muskrats have been widely introduced in Northern European countries particularly as the result of escapes from fur farms (Genovesi, 2009). Two separate introduction events for muskrat have occurred in Ireland . The first detailed by Fairley (1982), involved the introduction of 3 individuals at Annaghbeg House, near Nenagh, Co Tipperary in 1929 to attempt to establish a population for fur farming. Between 1933 and 1934, 487 muskrats were trapped and by 1935 the population had been eradicated.

In 2015 a muskrat was recorded in Cork but to date no details of how the species came to be introduced to Ireland are known.

Mechanism of impact

Competition, Predation, Grazing/Herbivory/Browsing

Management approach

Eradication is only possible in the early stages of invasion (Gosling & Baker, 1989).

Trapping

The main method of control is live trapping. However, it is only effective if it is carried out intensively. Baiting traps with carrots, celery or fruit and using floating platforms increases effectiveness. Once trapping stops, populations quickly recover (Triplet, 2009).

Shooting

Shooting carried out at dawn and dusk when the species is most active can be attempted but it is generally ineffective and only small numbers are killed (Triplet, 2009).

Native predators

Numbers may also be controlled by native predators including the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the polecat (Mustela putorius) (Triplet, 2009).

Broad environment

Freshwater

Habitat description

Muskrat density is related to habitat quality, as abundant muskrat populations dramatically reduce vegetation and vegetation may not have the potential to recover in poor habitats compared to areas where plants are abundant and rich with nutrients (Skyriene & Paulauskas, 2013). In Poland the most abundant muskrat populations are found in eutrophic waters in areas of intensive cultivation (Brzezi´nski et al., 2010).

Species group

Vertebrate

Native region

North America

Similar species

Coypu (Myocastor coypus)

Distribution

World distribution(GBIF)

Species is originally native to North America but has  been introduced to South America. Europe and Asia (Genovesi, 2009). 

Irish distribution

Present in the Wild - No details of distribution or abundance of the species.

Native distribution

Native to North America from Alaska to northern Mexico (Genovesi, 2009).

Temporal change

Date of first record category

2001-2010

Fifty year date category

2001-2050

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2019

The following map is interactive. If you would prefer to view it full screen then click here.

How can you help

Report any sightings to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Further information

Delivering Alien Invasive Species In Europe (DAISIE) project list this as one of the 100 Worst Invaders in Europe.

References

Publications

Brzezinski, M., Romanowski, J., Zmihorski, M. and Karpowicz, K., (2010). Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) decline after the expansion of American mink (Neovison vison) in Poland. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 56(3), pp.341-348.

Erb, J., Boyce, M.S. and Stenseth, N.C., (2001). Spatial variation in mink and muskrat interactions in Canada. Oikos, 93(3), pp.365-375.

Fairley, J.S., (1982). The muskrat in Ireland. The Irish Naturalists' Journal, pp.405-411.

Genovesi, P (2009) Ondatra zibethicus (Linnaeus), muskrat (Muridae, Mammalia). In: Handbook of Alien Species in Europe, Springer.

Gosling, LM & Baker, SJ (1989) The eradication of muskrats and coypus from Britain. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society,38: 39-51. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227800788_The_eradication_of_muskrats_and_coypu_from_Britain Site accessed 3 October 2107.

Skyriene, G. and Paulauskas, A., (2013). Distribution of invasive muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and impact on ecosystem. Ekologija, 58(3).

Triplet, P (2009) Invasive Species Compendium Datasheet report for Ondatra zibethicus (muskrat)  https://www.cabi.org/isc/ Site accessed 3 October 2017.


CABI Datasheet

DAISIE Factsheet

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species



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