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Muskrats: American Rodents That Are a Part of Red Indian Beliefs

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The author is an air warrior, global traveler, writer, and hobbyist

muskrats-an-american-rodent-and-a-part-of-red-indian-beliefs

Introduction

If you want to think of an animal that has its natural habitat in North America, then one can't think beyond the Muskrat. This is an animal that has its original habitat in North America, though this animal has now been cultivated in Russia and northern Europe.

The scientific name of the is muskrat is Ondatra zibethicus. It is a medium-sized rodent and grows to a size of about 40–70 cm (16–28 in) and weighs between 0.6– 2 kg (1.3–4.4 lb).

The muskrat's name probably comes from a word of Alongquian origin, muscascus which literally means "it is red", because of its color. The significance of this animal lies in the fact that it is central to some of the beliefs of the North American Red Indian tribes. There are many tales and myths connected with this animal which also serves as a source of food and clothing for the tribesmen and women.

Muskrats show many characteristics of the beaver but they are classified as part of the rat family. These animals thrive in marshy areas and generally do not enter crowded places like cities and towns. Because of their close association with the rat family, they have been given many names like marsh rabbit, mudcat, and mud beaver.

muskrats-an-american-rodent-and-a-part-of-red-indian-beliefs

Myths

Red Indian tribes that inhabited the North American continent had some peculiar beliefs and myths. Some of these have become part of American folklore. A lot of research has been done in this field.A few of the beliefs are related below.

a) Many Red Indian tribes believe that the Muskrat has the ability to dive into the ocean and reach the ocean bed and from there dig up the earth and bring it to land. This earth brought from the ocean bed is used by the creator to make land. The tribes also refer to the Muskrat as ' earth diver.'

b) Many Red Indian tribes also consider the muskrat as some form of a female deity. The origin of this belief is not known but it appears to be strong among the Algonquin tribes.

c) Another popular belief is that the Muskrat is connected with luck and wealth. Seeing a muskrat in the morning is a sign of good luck. When Braves go hunting in case they see muskrats then it is a sure sign that wealth is on the way. This connection of the muskrat as the harbinger of wealth and luck is almost universal among the tribes.

d) Another popular belief is that the muskrat has the ability to predict the weather and can indicate the onset of snowfall. The Red Indians feel that this quality of the muskrat can be gauged by observing the size and timing of the lodges that it constructs like the beaver.

Other uses

Very often Indian clans identify themselves with muskrats. As an example, the Chippewa tribe identifies itself on its totem with a muskrat which is called Wazhashk. Similar is the case with the Menominee tribe.

The importance of the muskrat in the everyday life of the Red Indians can be gauged from the fact that it also plays a part in their food and clothing.

Muskrat’s fur is used for coats and jackets. These animals have also for centuries being part of their food. When the Catholics came to Michigan they copied the habits of the Red Indians and also began to partake of meat off the muskrat. During the festival of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays when the eating of meat is prohibited (though fish is allowed) muskrats are consumed. This is a pretty old tradition and it's nearly 200 years old.


More information

The Muskrats do not make good pets. They have a musty and unpleasant odor. and cannot be house pets. It is also perhaps illegal to own a Muskrat as a pet.

Muskrats are an important part of the American wildlife and their history lends color to the American culture. The fact that they have a close association with the original inhabitants of North America is itself a fascinating story.


References

  • Attenborough, D. 2002. The Life of Mammals. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Caras, R. 1967. North American Mammals. New York: Galahad Books.

Comments

MG Singh (author) from UAE on August 01, 2021:

Thanks Bill, added to my knowledge.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 01, 2021:

You forgot to add the song "Muskrat Love." lol No article about the muskrat is complete without that one and only song about muskrats. :)

MG Singh (author) from UAE on August 01, 2021:

Thanks, Col, for your comment. It is an animal native to North America.

Lt Col Parduman Singh on August 01, 2021:

Haven't heard of this animal. Thanks for sharing.

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