Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Beaver: An elusive figure, a Canadian symbol

By NHE student Tessa Inwood
(Photo by Simon Lunn)

The North American beaver is a familiar animal to most Canadian families as it can be seen anywhere from on T-shirts to hats to even on the five cent nickel! But have Canadians really seen the living, breathing, lodge building beaver? Chances are many have not as beavers are primarily nocturnal and most often observed in the evening repairing dams, gathering food or splashing around in the water.

Beavers are a member of the rodent family and are the largest found in Murphys Point Provincial Park. The beaver is covered in dark brown fur with a paddle-shaped, scaly tail. The beaver possesses two long orange front teeth that allow for cutting and carrying large pieces of wood. Fact: beavers have rust-coloured teeth because of high concentrations of iron, which allow their teeth to withstand constant gnawing and eating of wood. Wood is important as it provides both diet and dwelling for this aquatic creature.

Beavers inhabit any small body of water and are well adapted to do so. Their tail is used as a rudder while valvular flaps close off the ears, nose and mouth when submerged. Interestingly their front incisors do remain exposed to carry wood. Even the beaver’s eyes are protected by a thin layer of clear skin membrane!

Though the beaver may remain out of sight his home is certainly visible along river and stream banks. The home of a beaver is constructed from sticks, reeds, branches, saplings, and mud. This dome-shaped habitat is equipped with underwater entrances offering further escape from human notice. A beaver lodge can accommodate a whole clan of beavers and provides a safe haven from predators such as the coyote, red fox, black bear and river otter. Though the beaver is preyed upon by a variety of mammals his acute sense of hearing and strong sense of smell provide a warning if danger approaches. Furthermore beavers will loudly slap their tails against the water to alert others of potential danger.

Beavers form a hierarchical society based on the family unit with the female or mother beaver at the head. Beavers are believed to be monogamous, pairing for life. The family functions as a cooperative group in performing daily activities and chores (not so different from most Canadian families)! The beaver may be an oversized rodent but he will remain an integral symbol to the Canadian past, present and future.

Novak, Milan. The Beaver in Ontario. Published: Ministry of Natural Resources, 1972, revised 1976

Burt, William and Grossenheider, Richard. A Field Guide to the Mammals. Published: Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1976

Banfield, A.W.F. The Mammals of Canada. Published: University of Toronto Press, 1974

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