Castor canadensis (American beaver) from the University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web explains:
Beavers are primarily aquatic animals, and the largest rodents in North America. They have a waterproof, rich, glossy, reddish brown or blackish brown coat. The underhairs are much finer than the outer, protective, guard-hairs. The ears are short, round, and dark brown in coloration. A beaver’s hind legs are longer than its front legs, thus making the rear end to be higher than the front end while walking.
- Beavers eat bark and cambium (the softer growing tissue under the bark of trees). Their favorites include willow, maple, poplar, beech, birch, alder, and aspen trees. They also eat water vegetation, as well as buds, and roots. Cellulose, which usually can not be digested by mammals, is a major component of their diet. Beavers have microorganisms in their cecum (a sac between the large and small intestine) that digest this material.
- Under favorable conditions, beavers will produce their first litters at two or three years of age. The average lifespan of a beaver in the wild is 10 to 20 years.
- Beavers usually live in family groups of up to 8 related individuals called colonies. The younger siblings stay with their parents for up to 2 years, helping with infant care, food collection, and dam building. Beaver families are territorial and defend against other families.
- Beavers build dams to slow down the flow of water in streams and rivers and then build stable lodges for shelter. The dams are engineered according to the speed of the water; in slow water the dam is built straight, but in fast water the dam is built with a curve in it.
- Beavers maintain wetlands that can slow the flow of floodwaters. They prevent erosion, and they raise the water table, which acts as a purifying system for the water. This happens because silt occurs upstream from dams, and toxins are then broken down. As ponds grow from water backed up by the damn, pond weeds and lilies take over. After beavers leave their homes, the dams decay, and meadows appears.
Head over to ADW for more information including some photos.
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