Five facts you should know about beavers
Most of us probably think about beavers as rather plump creatures with big flat tails and a penchant for gnawing wood and building dams; but how much do you really know about them? Reintroducing some species to Scotland has certainly been a hot topic this year and the beaver is one we’re particularly interested in.
RSPB Scotland is supporting further reintroductions of beavers here following the conclusion of the Scottish Beaver Trial, run by our friends at the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in Knapdale Forest.
The Scottish Government is due to make a decision on whether beavers will stay or go at the end of this year. That means we could end up seeing more of these fascinating creatures around the country in future, so here are five facts we think you ought to have tucked away:
Beavers are not exactly svelte...
Beavers are the second largest species of rodent in the entire world, pipped to the post only by the capybara which comes from South America. Beavers weigh upwards of 20kg – which is comparable to the weight of a roe deer. That already seems a fair size to us, but the extinct relative of the Eurasian beaver, the North American giant beaver, was as big as a bear! They could weigh as much as 200kg.
Beavers can hold their breath for 15 minutes!
Beavers spend a large amount of time in water and it’s where they feel at their safest too. They forage in water, carry materials for maintaining their homes through it, and it’s where beavers retreat to when they feel threatened. If they believe they are really at risk, they can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes! Beavers are able swimmers, and their eyes, nose and ears are all positioned atop their heads so they can have full use of their senses when swimming around. Beavers can also constrict their nostrils and close their specialised ear flaps to prevent water getting in when diving.
They have a better social life than some people
Beavers are very social creatures. They live together in little family groups consisting of an adult pair and their kits from the current and previous breeding years. Beavers can spend a lot of time grooming each others’ fur and even have a specially adapted double claw on their hind feet which act as a fine comb. Even as young beavers they love the company of others, and kits will spend a lot of their time wrestling, feeding together and mock fighting over sticks (how sweet is that).
Beavers have a secret weapon hidden in their teeth
Although beavers are capable of felling large trees they actually prefer to munch on smaller saplings. Beavers have specially adapted teeth for dealing with their tough diet, using their incisors to cut, and their molars to grind. Beaver teeth grow continuously, the same as other rodents. And the hard layer of orange outer enamel has iron built into its chemical structure – this gives the teeth their rusty colour but is also what keeps them so strong and healthy.
And they don’t just build dams
Beavers are phenomenal architects, creating brilliant homes known as lodges to live in. Lodges are pretty intricate, with a series of burrows and chambers to protect the family from predators and the elements. Sometimes they look deceptively small as most of the lodge is hidden beneath the surface of the water or within the banks of a river; beavers prefer to exit their home directly into the water because, as we know, it’s safer. Beavers don’t always live in lodges all year round though. Because they’re excellent burrowers they can quickly create what are known as ‘day rests’. During the warmer months they have been known to fashion and sleep in these simple short burrows or ‘day beds’ – I don’t know about you, but we like their style!
Additional irrelevant fact. During the Middle Ages you could eat Beavers' tails on officially "meatless" days. Since it was a bit scaly and came from the water the Church reckoned it was "fish", despite being originally attached to a mammal. :-)