Though not closely related, woodchucks and muskrats are adaptable rodents that have traits in common. Both species are native to much of North America, including southeastern Pennsylvania.

Both dig deep burrows to live in the year around and raise young: the chucks in meadows and fields and along country roadsides and the muskrats along streambanks.

These rodents are vegetarians, the chucks consuming grass, clover, and other kinds of terrestrial plants and the muskrats ingesting cattail stems and roots and other kinds of aquatic vegetation.

Being rodents, chucks and muskrats have teeth that grow all their lives and need to be ground down by chewing on tough plants, or they will grow through the opposite jaw and make eating impossible.

 Both species have brown fur that camouflages them on the ground and in streams. Their fur blends them into their surroundings, making them difficult to see, thus protecting them.   

 Woodchucks are active by day. They are about 20 inches long and weigh around 9 pounds. They hibernate in their burrows from November to February but look for food and mates in February into March. 

Each female woodchuck delivers four to six young in her burrow. Those youngsters are dependent on her until early June, when they leave home and search for a territory of their own and dig a den in it. 

Chucks dig burrows 2-6 feet deep and up to 50 feet long, with a few chambers at the ends of their tunnels. Each burrow has a main entrance, surrounded by piled-up soil and a few hidden exists so the chuck doesn’t get trapped in his or her own home. 

Some abandoned chuck dens get used by striped skunks, opossums, mink, red foxes and coyotes, who dig them out more to be larger for themselves. I’ve seen skunks and mink going in out of deserted woodchuck burrows.

Coyotes and bald eagles are predators on young and mature woodchucks. I've seen chuck remains in eagle nests through a live camera and our computer screen. Red foxes and red-tailed hawks also prey on young chucks. 

Muskrats are nocturnal, aquatic rodents that are about 27 inches long and average 3 pounds. They have webbed rear feet for swimming and long, scaly, vertically flattened tails for steering. And they have two handsome layers of waterproof fur.

Muskrats dig burrows into streambanks, starting just below the normal water level and tunneling up to just under the grassroots level. There they hollow out a living and brood chamber.   

Female muskrats annually bear two or three litters of six to eight young per litter in their burrows. The young grow rapidly and are soon on their own. 

Predators on muskrats include mink, red foxes, coyotes, and great horned owls. Mink kill and eat muskrats and then move into their victims’ dens and use them as their own.

Woodchucks and muskrats, being adaptable rodents, have traits in common. And both species provide food (themselves) and shelter for a variety of other creatures.     


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

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