The muskrat is a native of all of the Eastern, Western, and Middle States and also the Southern States, with the exception of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. They are also found in Canada and the Arctic regions, and in the North-west. They are hunted and captured as a means of support to the native tribes of Indians who sell or trade the furs to Eastern dealers. The fur somewhat resembles that of the mink in texture, although not as fine, and the color varies from dark brown above to grey beneath. It is in its best condition during the winter, especially in March. The animal possesses a musky smell, from which it takes its name. It is said by many that the flesh of the animal, when carefully prepared, becomes quite palatable food.
Their houses are so nearly like those of the beaver that a [Page 183] second description is scarcely necessary. They are often five or six feet in height, and the entrances are all under water. Dozens of these huts may often be seen in ponds and marshes, and sometimes they exist in such numbers as to give the appearance of a veritable Esquimaux village. These houses are used only in the winter season. In general the muskrat lives in burrows, which it excavates in the banks of ponds or streams, bringing forth its young, from three to nine in number, in the nest, which it forms at the end of the tunnel. They are very prolific, producing three litters a year. Like the beaver, otter and mink, the muskrat can travel long distances under the ice with only one supply of fresh air, and its method is certainly very interesting. Before plunging beneath the ice the animal fills its lungs with air, and when under the water it swims until it can no longer hold its breath. It then rises up beneath the ice, empties its lungs, the air remaining in bubbles beneath the ice. In a short time this air absorbs sufficient oxygen from the water and ice as to be life-sustaining, when the animal again inhales it and proceeds on its journey. It is by this means that the beaver, muskrat and mink are enabled to travel such great distances beneath unbroken ice, and it is certainly a very novel and interesting method. Where the ice is thin and transparent these animals are sometimes captured through the means of this habit. A heavy stroke on the frozen hut will drive its occupants to the water, and their course may easily be followed through the ice. If one of them is tracked, he will presently