There are two beaver species, with the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) the largest rodent in North America and the second-largest worldwide. These fascinating animals can run on land and move through water with ease. They use their webbed feet and paddle-like tails to steer and have large lungs, staying underwater for 15 minutes.
You’ve probably also heard of their peculiar habits, such as the ability to cut down trees effortlessly. But why and how do they do this? It’s easy to wonder, do beavers eat wood? Find out answers to these questions and more about this talented wild animal.
Do beavers eat wood?
Beavers don’t eat hard wood or the whole tree like most people believe. However, they do eat the inner bark of trees and can eat the softer wood just underneath the bark. They are basically eating the tree’s cambium layer by chewing on barks or branches and then spitting out the wood.
Since they can’t climb trees, you’ll see them cutting down a tree to clip the branches, leaves, and bark for food or building materials. They also gnaw on the trees to file down their incisor teeth that are always growing. This keeps their teeth healthy and strong, including preventing the teeth from outgrowing their mouth, making it hard to eat.
How do beavers use wood?
Besides eating the cambium layer, beavers are great architects. They use the wood from the trees they cut as materials to build lodges and dams. Dams and lodges are generally constructed with a combination of sticks, twigs, rocks, grass, and mud.
They build the lodges where they live, in the water, with the nesting and eating chambers above the waterline. Their lodges can even have passageways or skylights – talk about fancy living!
Why do beavers build lodges?
The lodges help shelter them from predators, such as coyotes, wolves, bobcats, bears, great-horned owls, and otters. There is also an underwater entrance so they can easily enter the water to find food sources.
They start building their lodges in the fall so it can be ready by the winter, when they don’t migrate but spend the entire time in the lodge. Although they are well hidden, they don’t hibernate.
Why do beavers build dams?
Beavers build dams for various reasons. The dams help create ponds that slow down the water and prevent erosion. This helps keep their lodges safe and adds another layer of protection from invading predators. The dams also create wetlands that improve aquatic habitats and produce the types of food they like to eat.
How do beavers cut trees?
Beavers use their long incisors that continuously grow throughout their life to cut trees. Their teeth are rich in iron which provides a protective coating of enamel, making the teeth strong and golden-orange in color. Although the incisors wear down, it does so unevenly, creating a chiseled shape that makes it easier for beavers to cut through wood.
They use their teeth to chip away around the tree trunk quickly until it is ready to topple over and fall. A beaver can remove around 140 chips of wood from a tree that’s 5.5. inches in diameter and cut it down in minutes.
What trees do beavers cut down?
Beavers prefer cutting soft wood and fast-growing trees that they can find in their habitat near lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. They also have a preference for what type of tree they cut down to add to their diet. These include:
- Apple trees
- Black cherry
What does a beaver eat?
Beavers are herbivores. Besides bark, beavers also eat woody stems, grasses, roots, vines, shrubs, leaves, and aquatic plants like cattails and water lilies.Although beavers use their incisors to cut trees, they rely on the flat molars in the back of their mouths to grind food. They also have unique micro-organisms in their guts to help them digest up to 30% of the cellulose they consume from plants.
How do beavers eat in the winter?
Beavers plan ahead and store food to help get them through the winter when plants are dormant and less abundant. This mainly includes storing branches beneath their lodges on the muddy pond floor.
The colder water acts like a natural fridge that keeps the stems fresh and preserves the nutrients. Since their lodges have underwater entrances, they can swim under the ice to find their stashed branches during the winter.
So, do beavers eat wood? Not really. What they are eating is the cambium layer found in the inner layers or bark of the trees. They tend to spit out the actual wood or use the various components of the trees for building materials instead.
Beavers are excellent architects and cleverly use their skills to help them survive in the wild. These herbivores also love eating aquatic plants, grasses, and leaves.