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The largest rodents on the planet (after the capybara), beavers can be over three feet long and weigh upwards of sixty pounds. They build all of the bulk as peaceful herbivores, famously feeding on trees, including leaves, bark, twigs, and roots. They also snack on aquatic plants like sedges.
There are two species of beaver, the American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). They look very similar and behave similarly, but they are incompatible as biological mates. They live in freshwater streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes, where they often create dams and extend wetlands.
Beavers live for over 20 years. They are considered keystone species and given the dubious honor of being the animal, after humans, most responsible for changing the face of the planet. Plus, they have survived near extinction and rebounded to be on the “least concern” section of the IUCN endangered list.
But, let’s get into some of the stuff that’s just amazing about beavers.
Source: Nat Geo Kids/YouTube
Beavers Have Amazing Bodies
Sure, it’s pretty cool that beavers are the second-largest rodent in the world, but their bodies have made some incredible adaptations to make them efficient, successful water dwellers.
- Their famous incisors keep growing throughout their lives. Chewing on trees keeps them filed down so that eating for the better is also vital to dental care. Those teeth are part of a massive skull, built to be powerful for chomping hardwood. The incisors have thick, orange (due to iron compounds) enamel to add to their durability.
- Beavers are known as great swimmers, but they do have the advantage of transparent eyelids. In other words, they can swim and see with their eyes closed. The eyelids act like a pair of built-in goggles, protecting the eyes so that beavers can get their underwater business done.
- Beavers, unfortunately, were famous for their fur, which played a huge role in why they were on the endangered list. Their fur is amazing for their lifestyle. It’s naturally oily, and that makes it waterproof. The coat, which has longer guard hairs and underfur, is integral in keeping the beaver warm during winter. They swim even when the water has iced over.
- The beaver tail is equally as famous as its teeth. It powerfully propels the animal as it swims up to five miles per hour (The average human swims at about two mph), and of course, that tail acts as a rudder making beavers agile in the water. The tail also helps the beaver balance while standing and sitting on land.
Source: BBC Earth/YouTube
Beavers Live in Territorial Families
Beavers have happy familial communities and work together to create ideal homes and habitats where they are safe, well-fed, and social. What an idea!
- Beavers mate as lifelong, monogamous couples, and they live as happy families of up to ten, including this year’s offspring (kits) and previous years’. The older kits, training for life on their own, help with domestic duties like maintaining dams, the lodge, and territorial boundaries. Kits can sometimes remain with the family for several years.
- There are two types of beaver lodges, one formed in steep banks (usually in existing banks and ponds) and one formed in open water, where beavers have created dams. These homes have dry areas where the animals sleep and socialize. It is sealed off from the terrestrial world, accessed via water, to protect the family. Dining often happens near the water.
- Beavers look after one another. Mothers are caretakers of the family and lodge, while fathers maintain the territory and collect food. Old siblings join the parents in rearing the new litter, often taking them out for their first swim and helping to feed them. Beavers use their tail to slap the water when danger is around as a warning to others in the colony.
Beavers Change the World
Beavers are both beloved and feared for their innate drive and capability of building dams and blocking streams, creeks, and rivers. These dams change the landscape in huge ways.
- The beaver dam has caused more changes on the face of the planet than any wild animal (humans and domesticated livestock not included). They build dams to create suitable habitats. They need water to swim, and the body of water protects them from predators.
- The largest beaver dam is in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. It’s over half a mile long and can be seen from space. But, more than the size of the dam structure, it’s the amount of water held back that changes the landscape. Beaver dams create wetlands where water wasn’t. Water is important to all animals and plants, so the entire ecology of an area changes when a beaver joins the show.
- Additionally, beaver ponds slow down water flows, which means they reduce the erosion of important topsoil and ironically prevent flooding downstream. The pond also helps during droughts, not just because there is a body of water, but because the water table around beaver ponds is raised significantly due to the water soaking in rather than flowing away.
Beavers are animals worth getting to know. They don’t have a great history with humans, so it might be time that we start making things right. It seems, on a planet where freshwater is dwindling, and the environment is suffering, that beavers might have some important lessons about how to live well.
- Beavers to Be Reintroduced in London for Urban Rewilding
- Rare Wild Beaver Family Sightings in the UK
- Meet Justin Beaver! The Orphan Beaver Who Builds Dams All Over His Rescuer’s Home
- Love Vanilla Flavoring? That’s the Sweet Smell of a Beaver’s Backside!
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