American Beavers are just one of the North American mammals that inhabit Ohio.
These engineers alter our landscape by using trees to rebuild waterways. The highest numbers are in the eastern and western parts of our state. Their population is now stable.
However, by 1830, fur trapping led to their extirpation or local extinction in our state. Their pelts were valuable. By 1930, they were back. Starting in eastern Ohio, these semi-aquatic creatures soon spread across the state again.
Beavers’ appearance helps them with everything that they do. Our largest US rodent can weigh 30 to 70 pounds. An adult is two to three feet long when full-grown, tail not included.
Their black tail, flat and long, serves as a rudder. It helps them steer and swim faster. When slapped against the water, this hinder part alerts other beavers to a possible nearby predator. The appendage also helps them balance when carrying a heavy log or tree trunk or when chewing a tree.
They have dark brown waterproof fur and webbed feet. A compelling fact about them, they use their second toenail, which is split, to groom their fur.
Beavers’ physical design says gnaw and swim. Like other rodents, their teeth never stop growing. To keep their teeth from getting too long, they must gnaw on trees. A thick layer of enamel gives their teeth an orange color.
Their ears stick out from their heads above the water as they swim around. They can stay submerged for 15 minutes without coming to the surface. Their transparent eyelids are like goggles. They allow them to see underwater while they swim.
It is no wonder that they live near trees and water. Felling trees to build dams is what they do. Beavers live in ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams in most parts of the continental United States. The desert areas in our Southwest are beaver-less.
These keystone species are special. They shape our surroundings and help other species thrive. The ponds and flooded areas that they create make new habitats for numerous plants and animals. Amphibians, birds, fish, insects, and some mammals can thank them for that. Some species only live near beaver ponds.
American Beavers build homes called lodges using branches and mud. They are often accessible by using underwater pond entrances. A lodge can have many rooms. The living quarters are in a hollow near the top. Wood chips on the floor soak up excess moisture. A vent allows fresh air to enter the domain. The thickness of the sticks and mud used to make the dam serves as insulation that keeps this home warm during winter. Beavers do not hibernate and need this protection.
The life of a beaver is long if all goes well. Longevity is the name of their game. They have a great deal of work to do. American Beavers can live for 20 years. Being herbivores, it makes sense that they eat leaves, roots, tree bark, and wetland plants.
They mate for life at three years of age. Females give birth after about four months. They have one litter of kits per year. Litter size ranges from one to four kits normally. These young and those born in the previous year stay with their parents in the lodge. The peak breeding season happens during the winter, usually in January or February. When born, kits have fur. Their eyes are open, and, within 24 hours, they are able to swim.
Beavers in Ohio do matter. By making great changes to their habitat to suit their own needs, they are a lot like us. It is good to have them back.
Each creature does matter. Let us value them and never take them for granted. If any of you would like to read even more about beavers, here are a few suggestions. Hope Ryden’s book Lily Pond: Four Years With a Family of Beavers tells the story of the Inspector General, Lily, and their offspring over a four-year period. Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb is another beaver book well worth mentioning.
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