“The beaver told the rabbit as they stared at the Hoover Dam: No, I didn’t build it myself, but it’s based on an idea of mine.”Charles Hard Townes
Castor canadensis, otherwise known as the American beaver, can be found in most of the United States and Canada and is probably best known for building dams that stop water flow to create a pond.
Beaver have been residents at Belwin Conservancy on and off for many years, most visibly in Bulrush Slough near the Wetlands Classroom. While their favorite foods at the woodland smorgasbord are willow and aspen, they will take on harder barked trees like maple or, as evidenced in these photos, oak.
If you look at the beaver lodge in the winter, you’ll notice all manner of tracks and footprints over and around it, mostly coyote looking for a way inside to get a tasty treat! Thanks to the beavers’ building savvy, the coyotes go away hungry more often than not. And, when spring and summer come, water is their saving grace. Beavers are smart builders!
Depending on who you ask, beaver, being second only to humans in their ability to alter their environment, are either amazing because of this or frustratingly persistent because of this. Love them because they are cute and industrious or view them as a pest because they eat your trees and cause flooding on your property.
Here are a few amazing facts about beaver:
- Beavers have orange incisors. This comes from an iron rich coating of enamel, which makes the teeth stronger and is resistant to the acidic qualities of tree bark.
- Beavers gnaw to live and live to gnaw. The front teeth of a beaver (and most other rodents) continuously grow! To keep the teeth from growing into each other, rodents have to grind the teeth together to keep them sharp and tapered like a wood chisel. Because their teeth are so sharp, they use them for defense as well as a building and feeding tool.
- Beavers are considered the “sacred center.” Native Americans revere the beaver for many reasons, one of which is its ability to create habitat for a wide variety of other critters. Once the beaver have a desirable pond created, they typically build their lodge in the center.
- Beavers are crepuscular. Beaver are active at dusk and dawn, infrequently during the day. A new word to describe their activity is “cathemeral.”
- Castoreum is an FDA approved natural food flavoring. Castoreum, which comes from the castor or scent glands of the beaver, is used to mark territories. It’s also a chemical compound used as a food flavoring or perfume extract.
- Beavers do not use their tails to pat mud or fight. Beaver have so many amazing adaptations, their tail being one of them. The tail is used as a rudder when swimming, an alarm by whacking the water, and a kickstand when they are cutting down trees. If forced to fight, a beaver will use its wickedly sharp teeth to defend itself.
- Beaver front feet are like little hands. They use their dexterous front paws (which have semi-opposable little fingers, not thumbs) for many tasks such as carrying branches in the water, carrying and patting mud into the dam and lodge, and digging water lily and cattail roots.
- Beavers have a split toe on each hind foot. Beavers use this toe as a grooming aid, to spread castor oil on their fur to keep it waterproof and to dislodge debris like twigs and mud.
- Beavers are always fun to watch. The next time you have an opportunity, settle in and just watch these animals. Beavers are always entertaining and, no matter what your feelings about beaver behavior, you have to admit, they are amazing!