Knowing the beaver

Picture this: an animal that lived in our waterways, here in Canada that was close to 8 feet long, big chisel teeth and could swim above and below the water line. Of course you would have had to live a few thousands of years ago. It was a beaver – and the beaver of those days could never have existed today.

I raised my children in the company of a beaver that I raised from before its eyes were open until it weighed 40 pounds. Bobby the Beaver often went swimming along with my children in the St. Lawrence Parks System back in Ontario – that’s for my book if I ever finish it.

For many serious trappers, the beaver is hardly worth the trouble due to the low price on the hide and coats. Beaver coats have dropped considerably, but on the other hand the muskrat is a prime target as that pelt is in top price category.

Consequently the beaver can become a problem due to a population rise, and the many beaver dams that flood farming country, roads, etc.
On the other side of the coin the beaver dams create small ponds for other wildlife to benefit in a big way from.
So why do we cull the beaver? We are damned if we do by some and damned if we don’t by others.

The giant beaver that lived millions of years ago became extinct. The beavers of today have been known to reach 100 pounds, but such a big beaver would have had to be very old and no doubt lived in captivity.
The largest beaver I ever live trapped for removal to some remote area weighed 63 pounds.

Back in the 1960s we often live trapped a nuisance beaver out of an area and released it into some small, narrow waterway. Soon there would be a dam (the largest beaver dam I ever saw was 8 foot high and close to 1,000 feet long). Within a month we would have a small pond with ducks on it. Within a year muskrats, mink and deer would be seen feeding on aquatic plants.

Soon, on one side of the pond a beaver lodge would appear and each spring it would would get larger as limbs and small branches would be woven into the walls and backed with mud.

The beaver lodge is quite a work of craftsmanship. PHOTO: Murray Martin

To dig down into the house was no easy job. The entrances were all underwater. There was one main entrance that led to its underwater poplar wood supply. There was always one or two escape entrances in case a bear or other predator was trying to dig their way in from the roof of the lodge.

In the northern parts of Canada the entrances to the lodge have to be built close to the bottom of the house and deep enough so that ice will not freeze over them. The beaver lodge shows just how construction wise the beaver really is, however the beaver only has about half the intelligence of a dog. In a subsequent column we will deal with that.

The beaver will lay larger limbs around the base of the lodge. Sticks, stones and packed mud and are all built into the woven walls of the beaver lodges. Inside of the lodge there is generally just one big room. The floor is above water level and covered with leaves of trees and other plants. As their dam rises, the water rises and the beavers tear down the ceiling of the lodge and add more and more wood and mud is applied to the outer roof. Material is added to the floor to keep their house above the water level as well as warm and dry.

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