Prey species must be Vigilant

by Dave Hanks

The world contains both predator and prey. Prey species do not live very long by being careless! Predators come in all sizes and shapes, and they must eat too. Because their prey is alert to them, they usually only make a kill after many tries. Therefore, they must use deception, speed, or make many attempts to satisfy their hunger.

Prey species may gather in large groups and depend on the many eyes, ears, and noses to alert the group to danger. Some depend on disguise to not be noticed. I don’t know how many times I would never have seen an animal, if it had not panicked, and remained motionless. Remaining in disguise is, also, a predator trick that lets the victim come close enough to surprise. Heavy bodied snakes are labeled as “Lay in wait snakes”. They can be so well concealed, that they simply latch onto a meal as it passes close by. Another interesting tactic is to look dangerous. By mimicking a poisonous species, or by looking scary (like butterflies with large eye-like spots on their wings) will deter many attacks.

Some fish simply make friends with bigger fish. By offering their services to pick parasites off the host’s back, or to clean their teeth; makes the smaller fish more valuable for its service than it would be as a meal. The predator protects them because they are far more useful alive than dead.

Muskrats are the epitome of wariness. They are most difficult to photograph, even though you may be aware of their presence. They rely on well camouflaged, safe havens. Their speed of swimming, while keeping a low profile in the water, lets them escape to burrows excavated in the banks of slow moving streams. These burrows are well hidden amid the stream’s sedges. The dens have many underwater tunnels leading to several dry chambers that have ventilation holes. Here the animal can bring in food, or wait out any perceived dangerous situation.

A Muskrat caught unawares

A Muskrat caught unawares

Muskrat: The Beaver’s Lesser Cousin

Muskrats seem like little beavers – both are rodents, and both are in the same family. Both have similarities, but the Muskrat is smaller and has a round tail instead of a flat one. Their houses are even similar, except the Muskrat’s is constructed of herbaceous vegetation (often Bulrush) instead of wood.

I don’t know how many times we have spotted this rodent, rushed to get a photograph, only to have it submerge out of sight for a long time. It can be a long time, because they can stay under for as long as 15 minutes. If that isn’t enough, they can always enter a burrow dug under the water’s bank. The photos we have are strictly the result of good luck.

These animals seek wetlands where the water is 5 to 6 feet deep with plenty of sedges. They are mainly herbivorous but will eat frogs, clams, and small fish. The interesting thing about their diet is that they consume up to a third of their body weight each day – a tremendous amount for a mammal, although equaled and surpassed by birds.

They have a couple of unusual traits: communicating through their musky odors and heterothermia. This is the control of the blood flow to their feet and tail. This allows those parts to remain cooler than the main body.

Muskrats only live about 3 years in the wild. This calls for fast reproduction and the reaching of puberty as early as 7 months. Heavy reproduction is also necessary for the species survival because so many predators find this animal a very desirable food item.

muskrat at An early breakfast of Bulrush

An early breakfast of Bulrush