The beaver is an amazing animal. What other animal can divert streams, rivers, and completely change the landscape and environment that they live in (except for those pesky homo sapiens, of course!). They are the engineers of the wilderness and are continually changing their surroundings to suit their needs.
The signs of these hard-working lumberjacks are obvious and unmistakable. And while they are large in size (36-48” inches long), they are actually a species of aquatic rodent. They have a large paddle-size tail and webbed toes for swimming and their tracks (hand prints) can be up to 6 inches long. Their fur is also naturally oily and waterproof which keeps them from losing body heat.
You can find our busy dam-building friends in most of the forests of the United States and Canada with a few exceptions in the deep southeast and southwest regions. They enjoy the marshlands and their habitat will often be a self-formed pond from trees they have felled. The entrance to their dwelling (“lodge”) is often underwater which further protects them from their predators like the lynx and wolf.
These aquatic rodents even have a set of nearly transparent eyelids that allows them to see underwater like a pair of built-in googles. How cool is that! They can remain underwater for long durations…up to 15 minutes and can swim at speeds around 5 miles per hour. Their teeth are constantly growing, so their chewing and gnawing is nature’s way of keeping that growth in check. Their herbivore diet consists of tree bark, leaves, twigs, roots and various aquatic and other plants.
Beavers live in colonies and their lifespan in the wild can be up to 24 years! They are monogamous and if you see them in the Spring, you might just see their young ones (“kits”). So if you see a dammed-up pond in the middle of the marsh on your next camping trip, look around and try to catch a glimpse of this buck-toothed worker of the woods!
If you spot a beaver in the wild, consider yourself very fortunate! More often than not, you will be able to spot their handiwork throughout the forest wherever you see small streams stopped up by a wooden dam, aside many small gnawed-stumps, of course. If you do spot one of their dams, sit down quietly at a safe distance and you might ‘score’ a lucky sighting!