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Written by: Nancy Moncrief
Wednesday April 8, 2015

Last Saturday, I was able to “sneak up” on a muskrat on the bank at Lake Lanier in Martinsville.  As soon as it saw me, it jumped into the water, and I got some halfway-decent photos (all I had was the camera on my cell phone).    It dove and re-surfaced a few times for a minute or so, all the while swimming parallel to the shore in the same direction I was walking.  As it swam on the surface, I could see that its forelegs were held under its chin and most of the forward motion was accomplished by its hindlegs, with guidance from its tail.

 Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

When it really wanted to get away from me, the muskrat dove and changed direction underwater; the water was shallow and clear enough for me to see it do this.  Then it stayed underwater long enough that I didn’t see it again, even though I searched for it for at least a minute and a half.  All of this made me curious about the diving abilities of these animals and how long they can stay underwater.

 Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

A short search of the scientific literature turned up a journal article with answers to my questions. MacArthur and others reported (in 2001) that average dive time for a group of muskrats they studied was about 20 seconds.  They also reported that some of the animals were able to stay submerged for almost 4 minutes (MacArthur recorded the maximum dive time as 224 seconds).  The longer dive times were recorded when the muskrats were escaping a predator. 

 Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

Muskrat swimming along the bank of Lake Lanier.  Photo by N. Moncrief.

MacArthur, R. A., Humphries, M. M., Fines, G. A., & Campbell, K. L. (2001). Body oxygen stores, aerobic dive limits, and the diving abilities of juvenile and adult muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 74(2), 178-190.

Tags: Biology, Dr. Nancy Moncrief, Mammals, Research and Collections

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