The animated series “The Angry Beavers” increased my curiosity about one of the world’s largest rodents. If you are also curious to learn about nature’s original engineers, then keep reading!
The Lives of Beavers
Beavers inhabit ponds and streams in wooded areas from Alaska to northern Mexico. Their bodies are ideally constructed for their varied activities on land and in the water. A beaver’s large hind feet are webbed for swimming. Its broad, flat tail is scaly and naked, except for some bristles. It serves as a sort of prop when it stands up to gnaw on trees and it also becomes an alarm signal when slapped against water.
Although predominately land mammals, beavers are thoroughly at home in the water. They can remain submerged for fifteen minutes at a time. When a beaver dives, flap-like valves in its ears and nostrils close, shutting out the water. Except for its tail, the beaver is clothed in a shiny coat of soft and thick underfur and this is overlaid with longer and coarser guard hairs.
Beavers – Hewers of Wood
Beavers normally live in family groups or colonies. The family usually consists of the parents and their young. Together, they cut trees, build and repair their dams and lodges and store branches for the winter food supply. This work makes them the most remarkable engineers among the Rodentia, the order of gnawing mammals to which they belong. And among mammals, only men are better engineers than beavers.
For felling trees, a beaver uses its four front orange-colored and chisel-edged teeth. With these sharp tools, it takes only a few minutes to cut down a small willow tree. Beavers tend to favour softwoods like aspen, poplar and willow, but they are also partial to birch, sugar maple, wild cherry and alder.
Once the beaver selects a tree to cut, it gouges out first one chip and then another. Next, he tears out the middle chip of wood. Working in this way, it girdles the tree and then cuts deeper and deeper until the tree falls. However, as the beaver cannot control the direction in which the tree will fall, once the tree begins to totter, the beaver will dash for safety.
And when once again, all is quiet, the animal returns to work. But first, it may make a meal of tender green bark, buds and twigs. Holding a section of wood in his hand-like paws, the beaver will then nibble away like a person eating corn on the cob.
Beavers Building Dams and Lodges
In deep streams with high banks, beavers sometimes make underground dens in the bank instead of building lodges. Digging the entrance underwater, they tunnel upward beyond the water level. There they hollow out a living chamber in the bank. In such a den, the beaver family is safe from most enemies. Even in shallow streams, beavers often build bank dens when they first settle in an area. Then they start to dam the stream.
The dam blocks the flow of water and it creates a pond where the beavers will live. The dam keeps the pond level constant during spring rains and summer droughts. It is deep enough not to freeze solid in winter.
Now, the question is how these little animals actually build a dam. So, beavers drag branches to the place they have selected in the stream. The branches are then laid side by side, parallel to the current. Mud and debris are piled on top. Layer upon layer, the dam is built up. To prevent leaks, the beavers plaster the upstream face with mud, leaves and stones. Diving to the bottom, they gather such material by scooping it up in their arms.
Beavers and Conservation
Did you know that beavers ponds can act as fireguards in the forests? Moreover, these ponds provide homes and breeding places for fish, water birds and other wildlife. Besides, beavers dams also play a big role in controlling floods and conserving water. They also keep the soil from washing away.
So, what do you think about these rodents? Please share your comments!