The muskrat is a rodent whose body shape is very similar to that of the beaver. However, while having a similar habitat and way of life, the two are only remotely related within the order Rodentia. The muskrat’s large body is 25 inches long and weighs between one-and-a-half and four pounds. Like beavers and nutrias, muskrats spend a significant portion of their lives in water.
As rodents, muskrat teeth have a unique characteristic that not all mammals have – they never stop growing. Most people might believe that muskrats, like most rodents, are always gnawing due to their insatiable appetites. However, there is a more significant explanation for their persistent chewing. So what’s the story behind the muskrat’s constant desire to chew, and do they bite? Below, we spill everything you need to know about muskrat teeth.
What Kind of Teeth Do Muskrats Have?
Muskrat teeth are proof that they are rodents. Since muskrats are rodents, they share a special trait with all rodents – long, continuously growing pairs of incisors. These incisors can eat through tough objects all day long and still keep growing.
Most rodents, including muskrats, lack the sharp canines that most mammals utilize to bite and grip prey. Instead, a large space or gap exists between the muskrat’s front incisors and premolars (a set of flat chewing teeth at the back of the mouth). This gap between these teeth is called diastema.
The muskrat may fit numerous lengthy pieces of plant matter into these openings if it widely expands its jaw. As the incisors protrude outside the mouth, water cannot enter the mouth because the lips seal behind them.
How Long Are Muskrat Teeth?
The longest or biggest of the muskrat teeth are the four chisel-like incisors, two located at the upper jaw and two at the bottom. Each muskrat incisor tooth measures 0.7 inches long and is used to cut stems or plant roots.
Due to the open-rooted dentition of muskrats, their teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime. The incisors, or the large front teeth, that come to mind when we think of rodents, continue to develop. Enamel covers the lateral (side) and anterior (front) surfaces, whereas dentin is visible on the posterior (back) surface. The softer dentin wears away as the rodent chews, leaving the enamel edge sharp like a chisel.
Their incisors are adaptable and employed for various tasks, including defense, capturing prey, biting through fruit skins, and cutting through wood and rope.
Do Muskrats Stop Chewing?
Muskrats and rodents constantly chew to keep their growing front teeth in check. If they are unable to bite routinely, muskrat incisors may harm themselves. If a muskrat can’t chew, its front teeth will keep growing until they either curl around and start penetrating the jaw they extended from or they keep growing straight up, tearing through the other jaw. If the teeth become overly long, they may penetrate the tongue or cheek and harm the gums.
What Do Muskrats Use Their Teeth For?
The front teeth of a muskrat appear too large for the animal’s size, and they are even larger than what you can see. But they serve their purpose well. The muskrat uses these teeth to cut its food, which includes cattails, tree branches, and other woody vegetation. It also uses the flat molars at the back of its mouth for grinding.
The muskrat’s front teeth aren’t inside its mouth. This helps the mammal gather plants underwater and take them to its feeding spot without getting water in its throat or lungs because the fuzzy lips close water-tight behind the large incisors.
What Color Are Muskrat Teeth?
Colored incisors are typically found in nutrias, beavers, and muskrats. The muskrat’s incisors are pale orange to yellow, the nutria’s are brilliant orange, and the beaver’s are brown. The front teeth have a unique coating of enamel that gives them this color. The teeth of muskrats and nutrias are more conspicuous than those of beavers because they are lighter and brighter.
Do Muskrats Bite?
Muskrats are aggressive, sometimes harmful, and rabid. In general, muskrats are rather hostile toward other animals and are also reputed to be violent toward people.
The muskrat’s main line of defense are his orange incisors. They deteriorate into the form of a wood chisel with a knife edge because they are harder on the front than on the rear. Muskrats can carry dangerous diseases, including rabies, tularemia or rabbit fever, leptospirosis, and giardiasis. So if you or your dog gets bitten by one, visit a vet as soon as you can.
What Do Muskrats Eat?
Aquatic plants, fish, crayfish, frogs, and other tiny creatures are all consumed by muskrats. Muskrats are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Since they are rodents, they will consume almost anything.
The main food that muskrats consume in their natural habitat are aquatic plants. Near water, a reed-like plant called cattail serves as their preferred food source. Invasive hybrid cattails have lately spread over regions of the United States. Muskrats have a significant ecological role in preventing the potential ecological disaster that these plants can cause. In addition to using cattails as food, they also use them to construct nests and dwellings.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/w1d
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- Pets on Mom, Available here: https://animals.mom.com/muskrats-teeth-look-like-10538.html
- Affiliated Dentists, Available here: https://affiliateddentists.com/info/rodent-teeth/