I awoke this morning to some disappointing news. It seems that those 1970’s icons, The Captain and Tennille have decided that despite their claim to the contrary that “love will keep us together” they have decided to call it quits after 39 years of marriage and go their separate ways.

With their cheesy outfits and, in my opinion, their dull brand of music I was never a big fan of The Captian and Tennille when I was growing up. In fact, I barely remember their song Muskrat Love and even after reading the lyrics still have a hard time trying to figure out what they were trying to say. The best thing I can say about it is that it prompted me to do some homework when I discovered we had very little on the inspiration for the song itself.

Muskrat, muskrat candlelight
Doin' the town and doin' it right
In the evenin'
It's pretty pleasin'

Let’s start out with a pretty general description. For starters, muskrats were originally native to North America and are usually found in wetlands and marshy areas. They were later introduced to other parts of globe when they probably smuggled themselves aboard ships and can now be found in Europe, Asia and South America.

Your run of the mill muskrat will usually be somewhere between 16 to 18 inches in length of which half of that is made up by its tail which is used to propel itself through the water. The weight of the muskrat varies between one to five pounds.

Muskrats are covered with two layers of hair that serve to protect them from the water and their lung capacity is such that they can remain submerged under water for up to 17 minutes.

Muskrat Susie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug out in muskrat land
And they shimmy
And Sammy's so skinny

Muskrat Suzie and Muskrat Sam aside, the name “muskrat” is derived from the Native American Algonquin tribe and their word ”muscascus” which when translated means “it is red”. As the settlers soon discovered, they also mark their territory by secreting an oil from their glands that has a rather distinct musky odor and over the years the name has been changed to reflect that.

And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed
Singin' and jingin' the jango
Floatin' like the heavens above
It looks like muskrat love

I don’t know if they whirl, twirl, tango or sing and jing the jango and I think most scientists that study such things will back me up on that. What I do know is muskrats usually live together in small groups that include a male, female and their young offspring. They have been also been known to go to war with neighboring muskrat tribes when food and/or territory becomes scarce. They make their muskrat home by burrowing into the banks of the wetlands and entering them through an underwater passageway. Inside, they drag some local vegetation and mud to provide them with all the comforts of home.

Nibbling on bacon, chewin' on cheese
Sammy says to Susie "Honey, would you please be my missus?"
And she say yes
With her kisses

Contrary to what the song says, muskrats do not nibble on bacon or chew on cheese. Most of their diet consists of local flora and fauna and they have been known to chow down on small mussels, frogs, crayfish and the occasional turtle.

Since most wetlands play host to a variety of predators muskrats often find themselves on the other end of the food chain. In order to survive they must stay on a constant state of readiness to ward off attacks from the land, the sea, and the air. Here’s a short list of animals that would gladly make a meal of them.

On land they will fall prey to foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx, bears and assorted snakes..

While in the water they must fend off alligators, snapping turtles, some of your larger fish and otters.

The threat from above comes in the form of eagles, owls and hawks.

It must be tough to be a muskrat.

And now he's ticklin' her fancy
Rubbin' her toes
Muzzle to muzzle, now anything goes
As they wriggle, and Sue starts to giggle

Okay, now we get to the good part about what actually constitutes “Muskrat Love”. Like other members of the rodent family muskrats will breed all year round. Each litter will consists of anywhere between six to eight baby muskrats and females have been known to have two or three litters per year. Depending on the climate the baby muskrats reach maturity somewhere between six months in warmer locations and up to a year in colder spots.

Depending on the number of predators and the muskrat’s survival skills, the average muskrat lifespan is usually between three and four years. That’s on the short end of the spectrum, when they are left to their own devices and predators are scarce, it’s not uncommon for them to live up to ten years.

I’m no math expert but that sounds like a whole lot of “Muskrat Love “ to me.


Lyrics come courtesy of The Captain and Tennille and their song “Muskrat Love”.


Musk"rat` (?), n.

1. Zool.

A North American aquatic fur-bearing rodent (Fiber zibethicus). It resembles a rat in color and having a long scaly tail, but the tail is compressed, the bind feet are webbed, and the ears are concealed in the fur. It has scent glands which secrete a substance having a strong odor of musk. Called also musquash, musk beaver, and ondatra.

<-- and sometimes water rat -->

2. Zool.

The musk shrew.

3. Zool.

The desman.


© Webster 1913.

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