The industrious beaver plays a vital role in maintaining the natural balance of its habitat. It constructs a complex system of dams and canals that  regulates flooding, creates marshland, and prevents the erosion of soil. Although the beaver is usually thought of as a resident of North America, there is a similar species that lives in Europe. Still, there are more beavers in North America than anywhere else in the world. Beavers live in family groups in dams built across streams and lakes.

Habits: Beavers are found in streams and lakes in both remote and settled areas. using their huge front teeth, they can fell very large trees and branches. They prefer oak, ash, alder, elm, willow, poplar, and birch trees. They use them, together with mud, stones, and sticks, to construct dams across fast flowing streams. The damming of streams causes the area behind the dam to flood, producing a large marsh rich in water plants, insects, birds, and fish.

Within the dam, beavers construct lodges that have various underwater entrance tunnels. They excavate mud from portions of the marsh with their front paws, constructing a system of canals along which they travel to and from their feeding areas.  They also push floating logs and tow sticks and branches down the waterways to new dam sites. Beavers use scent to mark their territories. They deposit anal secretions and a strong smelling substance called castoreum on rocks and mud throughout their territories.  Beavers warn each other of danger by slapping their tails violently on the water surface.

Food & Hunting: Bark is the beaver's staple food. To ensure a constant supply of food throughout the winter, the beaver spends a great deal of time in the fall felling trees.  The beaver tows the logs along the cancels it has made and stores them underwater. beavers do not hibernate in winter, but in the northern parts of their range they generally only leave their lodges to feed from stored food supplies. During this time, they live in constant darkness and lose track of time. Aquatic plants, thistles, meadow sweet, leaves , twigs, seeds, and root make up most of the beaver's summer diet.

Beaver & Man: Much of the early exploration of NOrth America was carried out by beaver trappers, who hunted the animals for the valuable fur. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the beaver population had declined dramatically.  Its numbers are now regulated by careful planning that allows beavers to be harvested for their fur and meat.  In the 1950's, before regulators were forced, 600.000 beavers were killed in Canada. During the 1970's, after hunting was controlled, only 100,000 to 200,000 beavers were killed in the United States.

Breeding: Beavers line in large, stable family groups consisting of one adult pair, their latest born young, and the young both the previous year. Most beavers leave their family groups at two years of age to find territories and mates.  BEavers pair for life, and mating accurs during the winter. The kits are born in late spring in a chamber in the lodge.  They have full coats of fur and are able to swim within several hours of birth. They are nursed for 6 weeks, after which all members of the group share the task of bringing them food. They soon venture outside the lodge, but it will be many months before they can survive on their own.

Key Facts: Sizes, Weight, breeding, lifestyle, related Species
Length:  24 - 32 in.
Tail length:  10 - 18 in
Shoulder height:  12 - 24 in
Weight: 25 -65 lbs

Breeding:
Sexual maturity: 3 years
Mating season: January - February
Gestation: 105 days
No. of young: up to 8 kits

Lifestyle:
Habit: Social, aquated, mainly nocturnal. Builds dams, flooding large areas to provide suitable habitat for itself.
Diet: Mainly bark
Life span: 15 - 21 years

Related Species: The genus, Casor, contains only one other species, the European beaver known as C. fiber.
Distribution: The North America beaver's range extends from Canada into most of the United States. European beaver is found is Scandinavia, west and east Europe, central Asia, and northwestern China.
Conservation:  The North American beaver has been actively repopulated by state and federal wildlife agencies.

Did you know:
A beaver family can fell as many as 300 trees in a single winter. A pair of beavers ccan gnaw through a four inch thick branch in 15 minutes.
The beaver is the second largest rodent in the world. Giant beavers weighing as much as 700 pounds exsisted 10,000 years ago.

Special Adaptations:
Fur: Waterproof, the silky underfur is covered by a coat of long, shiny guard hairs.
Teeth: Coated with a hard yellowish red enamal to provide a hard, sharp edge on the front surface to prevent wear.
Feet and Tail: The large, scaly tail is flattened. it can be used for propulsion or like a rudder. The hind feet are large and webbed.
Diving adaptations:  Nose and ears close when diving, and a membrane protects the eys. Beavers can gnaw underwater because the lips close behind the front teeth, while the back of the tongue seals the throat.
Scent glands: Paired scent glands release a musky smelling substance that is known as castorenum, with which the beaver marks its territory.

The Beavers Dam and lodges:
The dam provides a reservior in which to construct the lodge.
Underwater entrance tunnels lead to the living chamber. Branches stored nearby provide a winter food supply.

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