Have you ever been surprised by a giant, nocturnal, water-dwelling rodent while out exploring the woods? One with webbed feet and self-sharpening teeth akin to miniature chainsaws? -Its not a sci-fi monster, but rather our very own North American Beaver. On a site visit to one of KLT’s easements in October, Land Conservation Specialist Regan Plumb was excited to discover signs of beaver activity in the area, as proof of a healthy ecosystem.
The second largest rodent in the world, beavers are an important keystone species that was once hunted to near extinction for their hides and because of their interfering habit of flooding waterways. In fact, the wetlands constructed by these natural hydrologists are relied upon by many wild animals for food and shelter. Beaver construction also serve as natural water treatment plants, effectively removing sediment and pollutants from waterways. In fact, next to humans, no other mammal does more to shape its environment. Want clean water, abundant wildlife and healthy ecosystems? Support your local beavers!
Beavers are famous for their tail slaps, an alarm to warn others of a possible danger, and for their dams and lodges which provide deep water protection from predators and a mechanism for floating food and building materials. Dams are built by first placing vertical poles across a waterway, then infilling with horizontally placed branches and plugging the gaps with weeds and mud. Once a sufficient area has been flooded, they will commence construction of a lodge to provide shelter through the winter.
Beavers do not hibernate, but store sticks and logs in piles near their pond. They prefer to feed on the inner bark of aspen and poplar, but will also take birch, maple, willow, alder, and other trees in addition to cattails and lilies (contrary to popular belief, beavers do not eat fish). Part of their food stash is generally above water level, attracting an insulating blanket of snow that often keeps the surrounding water from freezing. In this manner, beavers ensure an area of open water where they can breathe when outside their lodge.
Some facts about the North American Beaver:
- Beavers have poor eyesight, but keen senses of hearing, smell, and touch.
- Beaver’s teeth grow continuously so that they will not be worn down by chewing on wood.
- Beaver’s teeth contain high iron content which makes them hard and gives them an orange color
- Beavers continue to grow throughout their lives. Adult specimens weighing over 55 pounds are not uncommon.
- Females are as large as or larger than males of the same age, which is uncommon among mammals.
- Beavers can live to be up to 24 years old in the wild.