Did you know that today is International Beaver Day? April 7 was designated International Beaver Day in 2009 to honor the birthday of Dorothy Richards who built a beaver sanctuary in Dolgeville, NY.
Beavers (Castor canadensis in the U.S.) are amazing animals, often called “ecosystem engineers” because of their practice of cutting down trees with their continuously-growing incisors (front teeth) and using the logs to build dams. The main reason beavers construct dams is to raise the water level around their lodges. Beavers aren’t very fast or agile on land, so having their lodge entrance under water protects them from predators. Even when the water’s surface freezes, they’re still able to gain access to their den as long as the deeper water hasn’t frozen.
Beavers are herbivores that eat the soft layer of tissue under the bark of trees (called cambium) as well as aquatic vegetation. Therefore, damming a river or stream also helps flood an area, making it easier for the beaver to reach new sources of food. The water can also act as a kind of refrigerator for vegetation the beaver can eat later. This is called “caching.”
As mentioned before, a beaver’s incisors grow continually throughout its lifetime. This is a key characteristic of rodents, of which the beaver is the second largest in the world. Like all rodents, beavers must chew to grind down their teeth, which is another reason they chop down trees.
Besides the services beavers provide to an ecosystem, like creating more habitat for other wetland species, beavers have historically been important to people. Native Americans used the beaver for clothing, food, and medicine and they played a big role in the European settlement of North America due to the heavy demand for beaver pelts, mainly for hats.
Even though beavers aren’t hunted on a wide scale for food or fur anymore, the loss of habitat and the consequent increase in human/beaver conflicts still pose threats to their existence. Therefore the aim of International Beaver Day is to raise awareness of beavers and their importance as well as inspire us to use the beaver as a model to help solve environmental problems such as climate change. I think that’s a pretty worthy goal.