Elms Environmental Education Center

Welcome to Planet Earth

Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

October 2014: Common Muskrat


Common Muskrat

Ondatra zibethicus

Who am I?

We are rodents, like mice and rats and beavers. We live in water and are well adapted to swim, dive and survive in this watery environment. Our fur is waterproof, we have a layer of fat to keep us warm, we steer with our tail like a rudder on a ship and our feet are webbed. We can grow up to a couple of feet long and weigh up to 4 pounds. I can breed anytime of the year, though tend to give birth in early spring to 5-10 little babies. I can do this up to 5 times a year! I might build a home along the banks of my water or i might even build something like a beaver lodge to raise my babies in. I will care for the little ones for about 6 weeks when they finally take off on their own.

Where can you find me?

Around the Chesapeake you can find us in brackish water creeks and coves and in just about any body of fresh water.

What do I eat?

We eat mostly aquatic plants and can clear an area rather quickly. We will eat small animals if we must, but we prefer our vegetables.

What might eat me?

Lots of things: Raccoon, Red Fox, owls, hawks, American Bald Eagles, Common Snapping Turtle, Bullfrog, snakes, and Largemouth Bass; as well as cats, dogs, and people. At the Elms it is usually the eagles or the otters that eat my babies. Life is hard here.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I am a common water rodent that can be seen during the day or at night. Unlike beavers who are nocturnal.
  • Many think of me as a pest because I make tunnels in the banks of their ponds.
  • People have captured me for my warm fur and for food.
  • Some people even believe that it was I who collected the mud from which the earth was created.
  • Don't plant a garden near my water. I like vegetables, remember?


September 2014: Oleander Aphid


Oleander Aphid

(with monarch egg)
Aphis nerii

Who am I?

I am aphid hear me roar! Seriously we are all females. Who needs males? When I mature I don't lay eggs, I lay nymphs -- mini mes that will grow up quickly and make more nymphs. That is why you see us in such huge numbers on your milkweed plants. (An asexual method of reproduction called parthenogenesis.) My daughters are all clones of myself and fertile! We are all very tiny (about 3mm) true yellow bugs. 

Where can you find me?

I can be found starting in early summer on milkweed, vinca and some other plants. We coat the stems and suck the juices for lunch. We can be found in all warm to tropical climates.

What do I eat?

Plant juice (sap) preferably on young tender shoots. That is it.

What might eat me?

Ladybugs! We hate lady bugs. But they will never eat enough of us to keep us down. We produce more babies than they can eat. Okay, lacewings, some other fly larvae and a couple of wasps will prey on me and mine as well.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • We are all clones of our mothers.
  • We are born fertile and able to reproduce almost immediately.
  • It is though that there are no males in wild populations.
  • We produce a sticky honeydew that will blacken with mold. Not very pretty, but not particularly destructive either.


Login Form


St. Mary's County Public Schools

Charting a Course to Excellence


Home  | For Students | For Parents | For Teachers | Nursery | smcps.org

The Elms Environmental Education Center is the home of Environmental Education for St. Mary's County Public Schools.

Unless otherwise indicated all original content on this site is free and in the public domain.