• Species: Muskrat.
• Scientific name: Ondatra zibethica.
• Nicknames: None.
• Claim to fame: For many people, the muskrat is best known as the animal featured in a Captain and Tenille song from the 1970s. Moving from the whimsical to the realistic, muskrats are valuable furbearers. Muskrat pelts are one of the most common furs on the commercial market.
Virtually all the muskrat pelts sold are used in the manufacturing of women’s coats. Dried musk from muskrats is used in the manufacture of perfumes. Muskrats are one of the fur-bearing animals included in Missouri’s trapping season.
• Species status: Although the muskrat is widely distributed throughout much of North America, it is not as common in Missouri as it is in other parts of the continent. However, the construction of thousands of farm ponds in Missouri during the past 50 years has accounted for an increase in the state’s muskrat population.
• First discovered: The first scientific description of the red fox was written by Carl Linnaeus in 1766. The muskrat gained some long-since forgotten notoriety during the presidency of Zachary Taylor (1849-50).
While in office, President Taylor somehow acquired the name “muskrat head.” As a result, President Taylor developed a strong dislike for the animal and the very word. In presidential addresses in Congress, legislators who disliked President Taylor would be absent and at their seat they would leave a muskrat wearing a powdered wig.
• Family matters: The muskrat is the largest member of the rodent family Cricetidae. This family includes most of the rats, mice, and voles native to North America.
• Length: 16 to 25 inches (not including the tail).