Have you ever seen a little beaver somewhere in Metro Vancouver?
If you haven’t looked closely, it might not have been a beaver.
Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) look surprisingly similar to beavers, although smaller and with some notable differences.
Megan Manes, a public environment educator at the Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES), recounts Vancouver is awesome that the two animals have a lot in common, but that there are ways to tell them apart.
Although they are both brown semi-aquatic rodents, the SPES conservation technician noted that their tails are completely different. Beavers have wide, flat tails, while muskrats have thin, tapering tails. In addition, beavers are larger and have more prominent ears.
Muskrats don’t build dams, but they build domes
Besides their appearance, rodents also share a striking behavioral difference. Beavers build dams, muskrats don’t.
As winter approaches, muskrats build domes from frozen vegetation to cover holes in the ice, says the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation. “These miniature lodges are used as resting places during underwater incursions and as feeding stations.”
Beavers and muskrats are both water-loving and can hold their breath for an impressive amount of time. In addition, the teeth of both animals protrude from their lips, allowing them to chew underwater without swallowing mouthfuls.
According to SPES records, muskrats were seen in Stanley Park before 1979. Although they are rarely seen in Stanley Park, when they were sighted it was near Beaver Lake.
A summary of historical and current occurrence records indicates that muskrats are “found in Jericho Park, golf course ponds in the Southlands area and Beaver Lake”. They were also seen at the mouth of Spanish Bank Creek and were considered abundant throughout the lower Fraser.
These beavers arrived at a Stanley Park lake after a 60-year hiatus
Known for building large dams, lodges and canals, you are more likely to see beaver tracks than to spot one of the large rodents. So when the first beaver was seen in Stanley Park’s Beaver Lake in over 60 years, it caused a stir.
In 2008, the first semi-aquatic herbivore mysteriously appeared at Beaver Lake after an extraordinary hiatus. No one knows how he got there, but a second joined him in 2011. Subsequently, the couple got kits.