NBS Blog

Ask A Naturalist: What is the creature that lives at Red Maple Pond?

Dearest curious critter, 

This question always returns to the Welcome Center with NBS visitors after they stop by our pond. Out of curiosity one day, I, myself, sauntered down Universal Trail and came across this adorable little creature, foraging on the grassy banks. I cautiously approached the brown, round, 1-foot long, and slick-haired rodent. My eyes were drawn down to its seat where a thin, scaly, nearly hairless, and vertically flattened tail was flopped in the mud. Just like you, I went through the list of ways to possibly name this animal. Beaver? Tail too thin . . . Groundhog? Wet, it clearly came from the water. I was stumped!  

Would you believe me if I told you . . . this little pond visitor is a muskrat! Typically, Muskrats enjoy nocturnal livelihoods, denning most the day and foraging nearby to quickly escape a predator. Our resident muskrat has racoons, coyotes, red foxes, owls, and hawks to worry about here at The Bird on Aquidneck Island. If you want to make friends with a muskrat, give them a salad on a very fancy plate. Muskrats are mainly herbivores who eat roots, stems, and leaves of aquatic plants. Reputed as fine diners, you should treat them with your best manners; they use feeding platform – also known as ‘plates’ – and harvest their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (don’t forget snacks and drinks). 

Art by Elizabeth Gibbs

Now, back to my moment at the pond, while looking at the creature, it came to my attention that the distance between me and my new muskrat friend was too close for creature comfort, but it didn’t seem to faze the wild animal. As a naturalist and steward, I took the path less traveled (by the muskrat) and left him alone. If you ever find yourself in my shoes, I advise you to think about the following: 

Remember, when observing wildlife, always use this rule of thumb: Observe from a distance that allows you to hold out your hand at an arm’s length and your thumb completely covers your view of the critter. If you can see the creature still, you should give yourselves both some extra space. If you want to get a closer look at wildlife from a safe and respectful distance, stop by the Curiosity Lab to visit me and check-out binoculars, magnifying glasses, and trail passports from our Field Tool Closet!