The Beaver is North America’s most common and largest rodent. Their most distinctive feature is their large flat tail, which serves as a rudder when swimming, a prop when sitting or standing upright, and it is a storehouse of fat for the winter. They are an aquatic mammal with large webbed hind feet ideal for swimming and hand-like front paws that allow them to manipulate objects easily. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell. When swimming under water a protective transparent membrane will cover their eyes and a flap closes to keep water out of their nostrils. They also have inner lips to keep water out when carrying sticks in their mouth. Beaver fur consists of short fine hair for warmth and longer hair for waterproofing.
Beavers are pure vegetarians, subsisting solely on woody and aquatic vegetation. They will eat fresh leaves, twigs, stems, and bark; preferring aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, poplar and willow. Aquatic foodstuffs include cattails, water lilies, sedges and rushes.
Beavers build and maintain houses called lodges. The most recognized type is the dome shaped dwelling surrounded by water. It is made of sticks, mud and rock. Each lodge has a minimum of two chambers: one for sleeping, one for eating and grooming. They have at least two water filled tunnels leading from a chamber to the pond so the beaver can enter and exit the lodge underwater without being spotted by predators. Their babies, called kits, are born and nursed each spring. Beavers weigh 45 to 60 pounds. They mate at three years of age and they mate for life.
Beaver don’t hibernate, so they stock pile sticks under water. When the ponds freeze they remain in the lodge and leave only to retrieve sticks from the stock pile to eat.
The beaver’s ability to change the landscape is second only to humans. Thus the beaver has developed a bad reputation among some because they can cause roads to flood with their damming capabilities. But wetlands behind their dams lessen erosion, and act as a water purifier; creating a watery habitat for fish, turtles, frogs, birds and ducks. So the beaver’s ability to maintain the health of this ecosystem cannot be understated.