“It’s a beaver!” “No, it’s a muskrat!”
Such exclamations are often heard at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, where both of these semi-aquatic rodents live. Even adults confuse the two, because beavers and muskrats are easiest to identify by their tails, but those aren’t always visible when these cute brown furry cousins are swimming.
Beaver tails are wide, flat and paddle-shaped, while muskrats have long, skinny tails with flat sides. You can usually see a muskrat’s whole body when it is swimming. With beavers, you often see only their large wedge-shaped heads.
Let’s look at some other ways you can tell the differences between beavers and muskrats.
Size and color
Beavers, usually weighing between 35 and 60 pounds, are much larger than muskrats, which top out at 4 pounds. Both come in various shades of brown.
Look in the mud near the water for footprints. Both have claws designed for digging. Beavers have five very distinct toes on their front feet. Their hind feet are about 5 inches long and are webbed. A muskrat’s small front feet appear to be four-toed, but there is a tiny fifth toe that is hard to see. Their narrow hind feet, about 3 inches long, have five toes and are only partially webbed.