How To Get Rid of Muskrats in Ponds & Lakes (Top Methods)

How to Keep Muskrats Out Of Ponds & Lakes (Best Natural Deterrents)

Muskrats are a semi-aquatic rodent widespread across areas of America, Asia, and Europe.

Muskrats, belonging to the genus Ondatra (the only species in this genus, in fact!), are a semi-aquatic rodent that is widespread across North America, as well as portions of South America, Europe, and Asia. However, they are only considered truly native to North America and are a nuisance invasive species on the latter continents. Contrary to popular belief, they are not actually rats, but are rather much more closely related to lemmings and voles. So, what do muskrats look like exactly? Typically weighing in somewhere between 1 and 5 pounds, muskrats have short, dense brown to black glossy fur, long tails composed of scales rather than fur to help them swim, large webbed hind feet, and lengthy curved teeth similar to those of a beaver (they’re in the same family).

Where Do Muskrats Call Home? (Nesting Behaviour)

As might be expected, their preferred habitat is wetland areas. They’re known to eat just about any aquatic vegetation, particularly cattails, bulrushes, arrowhead, and water lilies. On rare occasions, they will also eat insects, frogs, crayfish, mussels, and other small animals, mainly during the winter when plant matter is scarce.

Muskrats require constant access to water, which is why they like to create their nests within ponds and lakes.

When nesting, they behave similarly to beavers, creating what is called a “push up” out of sticks and mud. This nest forms a dome that peaks above the water’s surface, with an underwater entrance. They may also simply burrow into the bank and create a nest underground but above the waterline, also with an underwater entrance. On occasion, muskrats and beavers have been documented nesting together, sharing both food and warmth during the winter, though typically they compete with each other for territory and food. Muskrats breed quickly, able to have multiple litters a year with half a dozen young in each litter. They’re an important food source for many animals, from coyotes, foxes, and wolves to lynxes, bears, snakes, eagles, otters, large turtles, and humans, so populations are generally kept in check quite easily. Most muskrats don’t live beyond a year of age due to predation, fur trapping, and disease.

Are Muskrats Aggressive or Dangerous?

As more and more wetlands are destroyed to accommodate human expansion, muskrats are becoming increasingly common in urban areas as well as ponds and lakes, so there’s a decent chance that you’ll come across at least one of these guys at some point. Muskrats will typically run away or disappear under the water’s surface if approached by humans, but if you corner them they will, understandably, attempt to bite and scratch. If you find yourself in the company of muskrats and find that you don’t much care for it, there are a variety of methods you can use to both remove them and prevent them from returning without harming yourself or these ecologically important critters. However, they’re a fairly pervasive species, so don’t be surprised if you still see one or two around from time to time.


Are Muskrats Good or Bad for Ponds & Lakes? (Considerations)

Muskrats aren’t normally dangerous to humans, but can cause major damage to the environment as they nest and eat vegetation.

This answer differs depending on your outlook and who you ask. In natural areas, they’re quite an important species as they keep aquatic plant populations in check and are a very valuable food source to a large variety of animals. By consuming vegetation, they also help to create openings in the water for waterfowl like ducks and geese. Their old dens provide shelter for snakes, turtles, and frogs, and birds can rest atop them.

In decorative or urban fish ponds and lakes, however, muskrats can create some issues. When burrowing to nest, they often damage shorelines or manmade structures along the shore like dikes or dams. They may also eat your fish and aquatic plants, particularly if you have more than one muskrat on a smaller body of water like a pond. An occasion in which this would actually be a perk is if you have a problem with too many cattails or water lilies, as discussed in previous articles, or invasive vegetation like arrowhead. Muskrats could put a serious dent in any undesirable plant populations. If you have a garden, the nocturnal muskrat might wander in and browse on some of your flowers and vegetables.

Muskrats may also carry parasites and bacteria that could be transferred to other lake or pond inhabitants, or visiting terrestrial animals that drink the water. Though not common, muskrats have been found to sometimes be carriers of tularemia, which can kill them and also pass to humans (though it’s easily treatable). If you handle a muskrat, make sure to immediately wash your hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water.


How to Get Rid of Muskrats & Keep Them Away (Best Tools & Methods)

1) Cover Banks With Liner

Suggested for: Lakes, ponds, & water gardens (all sizes).

Since muskrats need to burrow, one method to deter them is to place a plastic or mesh liner in your pond or along the banks of the lake. If they are unable to burrow, they will likely leave and search for a different area to inhabit. However, utilizing a liner may limit the types of vegetation that you can have in your pond. A workaround for this is placing any plants that require a substrate to root into in clay pots and weighing the pots down to the bottom of the pond. If there are any existing burrows, you can fill them in with gravel or cover them with wire mesh (first making sure that the muskrat isn’t currently in the burrow, of course).


2) Install Floating Netting

Suggested for: Small ponds & water gardens.

This method works best with smaller bodies of water, such as ornamental fish ponds. By placing a net with small holes overtop of your pond, the muskrat will not be able to enter (unless it’s very determined and chews through the net), but small organisms like insects, frogs, and small birds will still be able to utilize your pond. The net would need to be secured in the corners of the pond and would essentially rest on the surface, and can be held down using natural stones, wood, or heavier ornaments. Most netting of this type comes in a black color, which means once it’s on the surface of the water, it’s almost invisible and should not deter from the ponds overall aesthetic.


3) Live Trapping (Humane Traps)

Suggested for: Lakes, ponds, & water gardens (all sizes)

You can set up live traps using appealing, calorie-rich bait like apples or sweet potatoes and setting the traps along the shoreline and near where you think the muskrat is nesting. Be sure to check the trap(s) daily (in the morning, since they’re nocturnal) so as to minimize stress to the animal and prevent it from dehydrating or overheating to death. Muskrats sometimes live in groups, in which case you can purchase a larger colony trap to collect more of them at once. Then, relocate the muskrat(s) to a more natural wetland area or pond at least a few miles away from significant human habitation. Make sure to contact your local wildlife office to figure out trapping and relocation regulations and procedures.


4) Install Perimeter Fencing

Suggested for: Lakes, ponds, & water gardens (all sizes)

Another simple method to deter muskrats is to place a small fence around your pond or lake. It doesn’t have to be particularly tall, as muskrats aren’t considered good climbers, but make sure the spacing in the fencing is small so that they can’t squeeze through, and is 6 inches or more underground to prevent them from digging underneath it. Since you’ll need to dig the fencing into the ground, this method isn’t the easier but is probably one of the best long-term deterrents to prevent muskrats coming back. A drawback to fencing is they may also deter other animals and wildlife, so make sure there is room between the fencing if you still want, frogs, toads, and waterfowl visiting.


5) Use Natural Repellents

Suggested for: Lakes, ponds, & water gardens (all sizes)

There are a variety of over-the-counter sprays available that you can simply spray on your plants and around the body of water to keep muskrats away, or at least prevent them from feeding on your plants. Depending on the spray, it will smell and/or taste unpleasant to the muskrat. You will have to reapply this at least once a week, and after every rain shower. Some common and effective repellents include cayenne pepper mixed with water, fox urine, coyote urine, and garlic pepper. These smells are not only unappealing to muskrats, but they will also be far more weary about settling in an area where they can smell their natural predators.


6) Attract Natural Predators

Suggested for: Lakes (predators will eat pond fish!)

As mentioned before, many things like to prey on muskrats. Placing owl, eagle, and hawk boxes around your property will draw in these helpful predators, which in turn will prey on muskrats. Snapping turtles and snakes will also happily snack on small adult muskrats and muskrat young, though they may also eat some of the fish as well. This method is better for natural bodies of water, such as lakes, as most predators will happily take pond fish (koi and goldfish) in garden ponds. If you manage to get a family of predators visiting your lake, however, you can expect a rapid decline in the muskrat population and less muskrats arriving in future as they’ll sense the danger of predation.


7) Remove Muskrat Food Sources

Suggested for: Small ponds & water gardens.

Removing palatable plants in and around the water will prevent muskrats from settling in, and cause any that are already present to move out since they won’t have access to food. This method is only recommended for use in small ponds, as removing the vegetation from an entire lake would severely disrupt the ecosystem. If you don’t really care for the plants in your pond, removing most of the marginal species and floating species should be enough to deter muskrats from settling. If you still want to keep plants in your pond, you can instead try to trim back overgrow plants to reduce food supplies and add a combination of netting and fencing to try to deter the muskrats.


8) Hire a Pest Professional

Suggested for: Lakes, ponds, & water gardens (all sizes)

If you have a substantial muskrat population or would rather not deal with them on your own, you can contact a nuisance wildlife control operator, the Department of Natural Resources, or a pest control agency to trap and remove them for you. If you live in an area where muskrats are considered invasive, you should always contact a professional for advise, and be aware that lethal means will very likely be used to remove them.

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