Nutria vs. Muskrat: Similarities & Differences

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Muskrats and Nutria are troublesome pests that destroy vegetation near water bodies and wreak the aquatic ecosystem. They can also burrow into the banks of water bodies or man-made ponds and cause leakage and flooding.

If you live near marshes, streams or wetlands or man-made water-bodies and have noticed that your lawn or your crops are damaged, these rodents may be the cause. We will show you how to identify a muskrat and a nutria and also what their diet is. If you want to differentiate between the two using just the shape of their tails, you need to start reading this article right now!

Nutria vs. Muskrat

The Nutria and the Muskrat both belong to the same order- Rodentia. But while Nutria’s scientific name id Myocastor coypus, the muskrat is Ondratazibethicus. Both of these pests have distinctly different origins.

Comparison of nutria and muskrat

For example, nutria, also called coypu are originally from South America. The name nutria was derived from the Spanish word for “otter”. They were taken to North America for the fur trade and were released intentionally or by mistake into the wild.  Muskrat, on the other hand, are indigenous to North America.

Talking of differences, even their sizes are different. A grown nutria is can be nearly 16 lbs heavier than a muskrat.

Their love for water and their social habits is the only thing that is similar about these destroyers of aquatic plantation. We have compiled a list of more differences between muskrats and rodents below. 

Difference between nutria and muskrat

Nutria and Muskrat


The nutria is larger than the muskrat. They can grow nearly 3 feet and weigh nearly 16- 20 lbs. They have shaggy outer-hair and look like a large rat. Their fur can range from yellowish-brown to dark brown with dense greyish underfur. Their most distinctive feature is the ferocious and prominent rust-orange incisors. Their tail is rounded and hairy and they sport muzzles with white, coarse hair.

Compared to the nutria, the muskrat is smaller- they grow around 16 to 25 inches and weigh about 4 lbs. They have brown or black fur with lighter colored fur on their bellies. Their tails are flattened vertically and pointed. The muskrat got their name due to the strong musky smell that they use to mark their territories.


Muskrats munch on water lilies, ferns, and weeds. But, when their veggies are not available, they don’t mind eating a few snails, shellfish and a few frogs. They’ve also learned a few tricks along the way. They can close their mouths behind their incisors and chew their food underwater too.

Nutria feed on arrowroots, spike rushes, bulrushes and many other plants that can grow near marshes. They also feed on insects, freshwater mussels and crustaceans. They are knowns as pests because they also feed on crops and lawn grasses planted near water bodies.


Muskrats are native to North America. If you have a keen eye, you can spot one of these nocturnal rodents near water bodies and slow-moving streams, marshes, and swamps.  They build lodges, similar to those of that of a beaver’s, complete with dry chambers and underwater tunnels and ventilation holes.

Nutria were brought to North America from South America for the fur trade in the 17th century. They have since taken over freshwater marshes, brackish water, and wetlands of America. They are social animals and live in groups of up to 13 members. They construct floating platforms out of marsh vegetation on which they feed and groom. They also make burrows nearly 15 meters long. You know you have nutria on your land if there are paths through the grass even though it is nearly 180 meters away from a water body.


Muskrats can live about 3 to 4 years in the wild. But if luck is in their favor, they can live up to 10 years. Nutria, on the other hand, can survive for nearly 6 years in the wild. In captivity, they have been known to live till 12 years.

Final Words

The nutria and the muskrats are both pests that live near the water bodies. Though both of them have similar behaviors, diets, and similar habitats, it is easy to differentiate between the two using simple external factors. I hope that you never find one of these innocent-looking pests in your back yard. But if you do, you will now be able to tell them apart with ease.

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