Beavers are special creatures. While they’re best known for chewing trees and building dams, there is a lot more to them than what’s on the surface.
Like humans, they have the ability to drastically alter their environment for their advantage. They’re widely recognized as expert builders, creating their own complex houses, canal ways, and of course their iconic dams.
Another similarity between people and beavers, is that beavers follow a family structure.
They live in small family groups and mate for life. Baby beavers, called kits, stay with their parents for up to two years — and everyone works together to live harmoniously.
There are just two species of beavers in the world, the North American Beaver and the Eurasian Beaver. The Eurasian Beaver is native to parts of Europe and Asia, so we will be discussing the North American Beaver in this article.
Are Beavers Considered Rodents?
Yes, beavers are considered rodents! Not only are beavers rodents, but they are the second largest rodents in the world — the capybara being the largest. While most rodents weigh less than 3.5 oz, the largest beaver species can weigh over 60 lbs.
Rodents are categorized as mammals that possess a single pair of continuously growing incisors in the lower and upper jaws.
They are the largest and most highly diversified order of mammals and make their homes in a wide range of habitats such as rainforests, deserts, tundra, and forests. There are over 1,500 species of rodents.
Beavers belong to the rodent suborder, castorimorpha, which also includes kangaroo mice and rats and pocket gophers.
What Family Does a Beaver Belong To?
There are only two species of beaver; the North American beaver and the Eurasian beaver. They both belong to the family Casotridae, and are the last living species in this family.
What Animals Are Related to Beavers?
Animals that are related to beavers are other rodents such as squirrels, mole rats, rats, mice, gophers, chipmunks, and porcupines.
While many of these species are omnivores, eating a wide variety of foods, there are some species that are herbivores, and eat only plants and vegetation.
The one thing that unites all rodents is the specialized teeth they have for gnawing. These teeth are constantly growing, getting worn down and regrown in a natural rhythm.
The front side of the teeth are covered in a thick enamel, but the back side is not. When this side wears down more quickly, the teeth self-sharpen — providing a sharp edge for cutting through wood and tough substances.
The North American beaver is well known for its large front incisors, webbed feet, paddle tail, and thick, waterproof coat.
It’s considered semi-aquatic, meaning it spends a significant portion of its life in the water. Due to their reduced locomotion on land, beavers prefer to remain in the water in order to steer clear from predators.
Their webbed feet and paddle tail help them move swiftly through the water. They also have a nictitating membrane that can cover their eyes, enabling them to see underwater.
Beavers are proficient builders, altering and shaping the surrounding environment to suit their needs. Not only do they build dams, they build intricate lodges with multiple entrances as well as canal systems.
What Do Beavers Eat?
Quite simply, beavers are vegetarians that eat wood, bark, and plants. Beavers don’t eat fish or animals of any type.
A special trait the beaver possesses is that it’s able to digest the cellulose that’s found in wood. The leaves, buds, and inner bark of growing trees provide major food sources for beavers.
The trees in their diet include:
They will also eat evergreens such as spruce and pine on occasion, but they prefer to eat aspen and poplar.
Another big part of a beavers diet is aquatic vegetation. This includes foods such as water lilies and cattails.
Where Do Beavers Live?
The North American Beaver can be found all over the United States, Canada, and even parts of Mexico. They avoid dry areas like deserts as well as the extremely frigid northern parts of Canada.
Though they are native to North America, they have been introduced to other parts of the world such as France, Russia, and Finland.
Beavers prefer building their homes and living in freshwater ponds, marshes, rivers, lakes, streams and swamps. They build their dams on banks, islands, and shores to create their own ponds which surround their lodges.
About Beaver Dams
Beaver dams are the structures built by beavers in order to stop the flow of water to flood the surrounding woodlands, and to create new ponds. They can influence the environment greatly and even modify the overall ecosystem.
What Is a Beaver Dam Made Of?
Beavers make their dams out of sticks, stones, moss, and grasses. The whole family builds together, with the young members learning as they go.
They work hard — chomping down trees and dragging the timber through land and water to enforce their dams and lodges. Stones are used to weigh down the base of the dam, while mud is dredged along the bottom to prevent water from passing through.
How Long Does It Take a Beaver to Build a Dam?
Beavers can build dams in as few as 2 days, but depending on the size and style of dam they have chosen to build it could take much longer.
Beavers are master builders and build everything from small dams only a few feet long to much larger dams that can be hundreds of yards long. The length and height of the damn determines how long the process takes. And the size and style of the dam is dictated by the speed of the water they’re building on and other factors.
We know that a beaver can take down a 6 inch wide aspen tree in about 20 minutes, but beaver dams may have hundreds of logs depending on the size. Then they have to pack it with mud to waterproof it, this can all take some time.
Beavers work quickly, mostly at night, and in pairs. They have been reported being able to build a 2 foot high, 10 foot wide dam in just two nights. If there are leaks or damages to the dam they begin reconstruction as soon as possible. Often, if something needs fixing it can be mended overnight.
Why Do Beavers Build Dams?
For beavers, there are plenty of advantages to building a dam. One of the most important benefits of a dam is that it creates a pond. It’s in these dam-made ponds that beaver colonies will build their lodge, their house structure that’s crucial to their survival.
Building a dam can flood the surrounding woodland, making it possible for beavers to swim in a larger area.
This is an advantage to them because they are more nimble as swimmers than when traveling on the ground, so they can easily avoid predators. They’ll also be able to get to more food sources without having to leave the water.