American Beaver

A beaver is a furry animal that lives near water and has the ability to build dams across streams, houses or “lodges,” in which it lives. It is a rodent, which means that it can gnaw with its teeth. A beaver may grow to be as big as a dog, about 50 pounds in weight. It is long and low, with a flat, scaly tail which serves as both an oar and a rudder when it is swimming. Its head is short and rounded. It has small ears, its hind feet are webbed and it has special claws with which it combs out its thick, soft fur.

Sometimes, beavers live in holes in river banks. Most of the time, they build large “lodges” in midstream or pond. A lodge consists of logs and branches that are weighted down and tightly plastered together with mud and stones and has several underwater entrances with an emergency escape hole, but the main part is a large, circular room, above the level of the water, in which twenty or more beavers live.

If the water is not deep enough to protect the entrances to their homes, the beaver deepens it by damming up the stream. A beaver has the ability to fell trees with its huge, sharp front teeth, gnawing its way through their bases so neatly that the wood appears as if it had been cut with chisels. A beaver can drag a tree if it is too heavy or too far from the water. It has the ability to dig a special canal up to it and float it out.

It chooses its site carefully before fixing its logs, wedges these securely between roots, so that the logs do not get washed away. Sometimes the finished dam becomes a giant structure that raises the level of the water. Whole stretches of the Canadian countryside have been altered by the work of beavers. Not all the trees that are felled by beavers are used in building dams or houses. Many of the trees are sunk to the bottom of the water, near the house, where they can be reached in winter by swimming under the ice.

The beaver’s chief food is the soft bark of trees, such as willows, poplars, birches, and alders, as well as water plants.

Beavers are very shy and cannot be seen when they work. When they sense danger, they dive below water and smack their tails loudly in order to warn other beavers.

Beaver fur is very valuable. It opened up large parts of North America that were engaged in the fur trade. For nearly four hundred years, beavers were hunted for their fur and were almost wiped out, but are now protected.