Did you know that beavers are related to rats and mice? That's right! Beavers are the largest living rodents in North America, with adults averaging 40 pounds in weight and measuring more than 3 feet in length, including the tail. These semi-aquatic mammals have webbed hind feet, large incisor teeth, and a broad, flat tail. The tail of a large beaver may be 15 inches long and 6 inches wide. It is covered with leathery scales and sparse, coarse hairs.
The beaver’s tail has important uses both in the water and on land. In the water, the animal uses its flexible tail as a four-way rudder. When diving after being frightened, a beaver loudly slaps the water with its tail; the sound warns all beavers in the vicinity that danger is near, and can also frighten away predators.
On land, the tail acts as a prop when a beaver is sitting or standing upright. It also serves as a counterbalance and support when a beaver is walking on its hind legs while carrying building materials with its teeth, front legs, and paws. Contrary to common belief, beavers do not use their tails to plaster mud on their dams.
Beavers live near rivers, streams, ponds, small lakes, and marshes. They build lodges of sticks and mud on islands, on pond banks, or on lake shores. Beaver dams are domed-shaped and can be up to ten feet tall. Beaver lodges have one large central chamber and one or two entrances. The floor of the chamber is a little bit above the water and is usually covered in wood chips to absorb moisture. A vent in the lodge lets in fresh air. However, not all beavers build lodges. Some beavers build burrows in the banks of rivers.
When beavers build dams, they create new wetland environments for other species. These wetlands can help slow erosion, raise the water table, and help purify the water. Beavers can play a major role in succession. When beavers abandon their lodges and dams, aquatic plants take over the pond. Eventually, shrubs and other plants grow, and the area will become a meadow. The shrubs in the meadow will provide enough shade to allow tree seedlings to grow. Once the trees grow, they will take over and the land will turn into a woodland area.
Beavers live in family groups or colonies. A colony is made up of a breeding male and female beaver and their offspring. Beavers are very territorial and protect their lodges from other beavers. They mark their territory by building piles of mud and marking it with their scent.
Beavers mate for life, but if one mate dies, the other one finds another mate. Beavers mate when they are about three years old. Mating season runs from January and March in cold regions and in late November or December in the south. Gestation lasts about three months, and females have one litter of kits a year between April and June. Before birth, the female makes a soft bed in the lodge. The babies' eyes are open when they are born, and they can swim within 24 hours of birth. These adorable little babies will be exploring outside the lodge with their parents within just a few days.
Beaver babies are weaned in about two weeks. While most wildlife males will leave after mating, the male beaver stays with the female for life and helps the female take care of the babies. The young beavers will stay with their parents until they are at least two years old, which is approximately equivalent to a human teenager. At that time, they will look for their own mates and create their own territories. Most beavers can live to be 20 years old.
Just like rats and squirrels, a beaver's teeth will grow continually throughout its life. Beavers must chew constantly in order to keep their teeth filed down. Believe it or not, these little fellows are picky eaters!
The beaver is a strict herbivore, which means it eats only plants. The majority of a beaver's diet is made up of tree bark and cambium which is the soft tissue that grows under the bark of a tree. The beaver has a specialized digestive system that helps it digest tree bark. While beavers will eat any bark, they are especially drawn to the bark of willow, maple, birch, aspen, cottonwood, beech, poplar, and alder trees. And because beavers spend so much time in the water, they have an assortment of water plants to choose from. Beavers also eat other vegetation like roots and buds.
We've all heard the
old saying “busy as a beaver”. Funny thing is, beavers
really do keep busy, especially at night. In fact, beavers are such hardworking little creatures that just one beaver by himself can cut down an 8 foot tree in less than 5 minutes! That's one hardworking beaver!
Like any wildlife, beavers also carry diseases. Other than the usual ticks and bacteria, two diseases specific to beavers stand out.
One such disease is Tularemia which is a bacterial disease that often affects wildlife, but mostly causing the deaths of beavers, rabbits and small rodents. Tularemia can also spread to humans and can cause serious symptoms in humans and animals. This disease is spread by ticks and biting flies. Some ways to help prevent infection are by using insect repellent, washing hands, giving wildlife their space, and only drinking treated water.
Another disease to be aware of is Giardiasis, or referred to as beaver fever by some. Giardiasis is a parasitic infection of the digestive system. This infection is can be transmitted through food or water. Giardiasis occurs all over the world, but it is more common in areas with poor sanitation. Symptoms can include severe abdominal discomfort and diarrhea, but some people have no symptoms.
Beavers have an odd discharge that comes from under their tails called Castoreum. And this discharge actually smells like vanilla!
Castoreum is a chemical compound that mostly comes from a beaver’s castor sacs, which are located under the tail by the anus. It looks like a brown, slimy secretion the consistency of molasses and smells like vanilla.
And believe it or not, Castoreum is actually an FDA-approved natural flavoring! This food additive is a common vanilla substitute billed as a 'natural flavoring' on ingredient labels. So check your labels, and if you see the words “natural vanilla flavoring” in the ingredients section, you just might be having a little Castoreum in your meal.
If you have a problem with beavers creating havoc on your property, give Apex Wildlife Control a call today. We will humanely trap and relocate your problem beaver. And his Castoreum.