By Douglas Domedion
Medina Journal-Register — This early fall I had a wonderful opportunity to photograph a family of beavers that apparently have not been harassed by people as they were very tolerate of me. It was kind of a remote area and there were two adults and three young ones. Most of the time beavers are nocturnal but this family had just moved in and were busy setting up a new home so they offered some daylight photographing.
The Beaver is similar to our Muskrat except he is much bigger and someone ran over his tail and flattened it out! He also likes to chew on larger vegetation like trees.
He is our largest rodent and averages around 35 to 45 pounds but weights of 60 pounds are sometimes reached and there are records of them weighing over 100.
Like the muskrat his front feet are small but the hind feet are huge and can be 6 inches long and just as wide by the toenails. It has a unique split toenail in each hind foot that is used as a comb for grooming. His big flat tail is use to help steer him through the water as well as for sounding an alarm.
The brown silky fur is about 2 inches long and is underlain with a soft, dense under fur about 1 inch long that protects the animals skin from the cold water. There is but a single lower body opening that serves as the urinary and bowl tract and covers the reproduction organs of both male and female. It also covers an oil gland (called castors) that, with the use of those split toenails for grooming, is used to keep the fur waterproof.
The eyes have an extra eyelid that cover the eyes while swimming under water that allows them to see but not get abrasive particles on the eyeball. They can stay submerged for 10 to 15 minutes and can travel a half-mile under water.
Beavers can live up to 12 years and usually mates for life. It is a family-type animal in that the parents allow the young from the previous year to remain with them when they are raising the current years young. Usually 3 to 5 kits are in a litter and they take to the water readily and are usually swimming the day after they are born.
A lodge built of many layers of sticks and tree branches is placed out in the water on a pond that is created by building a dam across a creek or stream. This home can be up to 40 feet wide and 6 foot high. A chamber is chewed out in the center to serve as living quarters and has several tunnel entrances starting on the sides below water level. Mud is packed on the lodge to fuse things together with a vent hole left near the peak. The living area is two part with a level near the waterline where they shake off water before going into the second, higher nesting area. Along rivers and lakes that have high banks they will construct bank dens instead of lodges by digging tunnels under water to the higher bank area above the water level where they will crave out a nesting chamber.
Near both these types of homes they will build “feed piles” of fresh cut limbs that look like flattened small lodges. After ice has formed in the winter they can pull limbs from under the ice and take them back into the lodge to feed on.
The preferred foods include the bark from cottonwood, willow, aspen and dogwood trees. They do not eat the wood but only the bark. They can however chew through huge trees to drop them so they can get to the more tender bark on the branches. They will even go inland quite a ways to drop trees and carve out canals to haul them back to their ponds. Beavers also like the roots, leaves and stems of many aquatic plants and will also feed on crops like corn, apples, wheat, clover and potatoes.
“Buckie the Beaver” has the ability to really alter the habitat with his construction of dams and canals. When a beaver pond is created it provides habitat for other fur- bearers like mink and muskrats, many marsh birds, ducks and fish. However as the pond gets older and the beaver food sources dwindle they move on and many of the better habitats are lost. On the downside they can damage property by cutting trees, flooding large areas of farm land and plug culverts that cause roads to flood over and erode. Their construction of dams on streams can also slow water movement down causing it to warm above what trout can survive in.
The Beavers fur is beautiful and very warm, which was the cause of their massive decline many years ago, but they are not valued as high as many other furs today and in many area they have become a nuisance. This year the price paid to trappers will be around $25 to $40 depending on the size, which is not very much for the difficult work that has to go into preparing the pelt to sell.
During the time I spent photographing these busy creatures I discovered several things that were new to me, like their ability to sink below the surface of the water with out a ripple or swim under the water, even when shallow, without making a wave. At times they came close enough to me that I could just about reach out of my blind and touch them. Of course this is not the first time some fascinating things have been learned while waiting to get that “great shot”!
To get sportsman’s news and info into The Great Outdoors, call Doug Domedion at (585) 798-4022 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.