North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Largest rodent in North America, a symbol of sovereignty of the greatest country on the planet – Canada, nature’s engineer, environmentalist, a workaholic, and even dubbed as one of the most influential species – other than humans – that plays a role in climate change (believe it or not) in terms of both positive and negative impact.

Although this amazing creature received honorary status as an official emblem of Canada in March 1975, it’s significance in shaping Canadian, or North American history rather, goes a long way back. The fur traders were particularly after these rodents for their fur during seventeen century onwards. Numbered in several millions as they roamed freely across the True North, their numbers began to dwindle at the peak of fur trade. so much so they were close to extinction. Human greed, as we very well know, has caused many a problems in the past, on going issues at present or issues that will leave our future generations shaking their heads in embarrasement.

There are several references in daily use through out North America that are attributed to beaver-human interaction that dates back hundreds of years. One such profound term used daily is the ‘buck’ of course! The reference to loonie (not a person that has lost their marbles) but monies! A coin was established during fur trade days which carried a value of one beaver pelt. I presume the name owing to the buck-teeth of these animals that are rich in iron content capable carving and bring down some of the largest trees to the ground.

Some images of trees chewed and carved on our local hiking route along Fletcher’s Creek in Ontario. They use lumber freshly carved to their personal gratification requirements for building dams around running water bodies which have significant impacts on the environment.

Like any other rodents, beaver teeth are ever-growing, hence, chewing tree trunks keep their buck-teeth sharp as well as short. Additionally, they use chopped wood for building dams as mentioned earlier for shelter, food storage and safety from predators.

In rural settings, their personal grooming practices can spell disaster for homeowners or farmers nevertheless. Large trees can be brought down crashing onto barns and/or dwellings within close proximity, therefore, trees are usually protected from beaver gnawing by installing special fencing; i.e., wire wrapped around tree trunks, or meshing.

According to their dietary preferences as per Beaver Institute webpage, preferred tree species include alder, aspen, apple, birch, cherry, cottonwood, poplar and willow. Aspen/poplar and cottonwood are their favorite. If the supply of their preferred trees is low they will harvest oaks and some maples. Conifers such as pines, hemlocks, etc. are their least favorite. It is established that beavers eat the underside of the bark on trees for nutrients but unable to digest wood itself. That explains the pictures I captured below where entire tree bark was polished off cleanly for a hearty meal!

I am yet to capture beavers having a tree bark meal with appetizing condiments utilizing their natural eating utensils but managed to capture one gnawing away at frozen ice during the day. These talented creatures are nocturnal in nature, hence, would have to venture out at night to hopefully watch them bring down a tree or two.

Background commentary courtesy my inquisitive middle son 🙂

Chewing ice has the potential of fracturing human teeth. Our dentist has warned us on a few occasions to discourage our little ones from doing so (chewing ice that is!). Beaver teeth are metallic though – literally! They have a yellowish-orange tint to their buck teeth since the enamel in their teeth contain considerable amount of iron, giving them strength they need to resist fracture and enjoy the bite.

It’s a well known documented fact that beavers are capable of altering their environment, a feat that’s only attributed to humans in relative frame of reference. Which leads me to some extremely interesting facts about these rodents that relate to climate change. On a positive note, beaver dams have the potential of saving mankind some undue headaches well into the future as water supplies dwindle as a result of climate change. An environmentalist, Mr. Goldfarb, who holds a Master’s degree from Yale explains “There’s so much focus now on climate adaptation in this hot, dry new world we’re living in the American West. All over the country, people are thinking about new strategies for adapting to climate change, and engineering more resilient landscapes. Lots of these strategies cost millions or billions of dollars – but then here’s this rodent that creates thousands of reservoirs across the landscape, for free.” Once at brink of extinction due to human fur consumption, these rodents are now being appreciated for their planet saving skills.

People are thinking about new strategies for adapting to climate change, and engineering more resilient landscapes. Lots of these strategies cost millions or billions of dollars – but then here’s this rodent that creates thousands of reservoirs across the landscape, for free.

A mind boggling fact I stumbled upon, world’s largest beaver dam was discovered in Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta by an ecologist named Jean Thie who happened to discover this amazing natural dam while scanning Google Earth. A multi-generational building effort since 1970s that puts its footprint that is bigger than Hoover Dam and can be spotted from space! 😲

Research believes these rodents aren’t only helping against the fight with climate change but may be adding to the problem as well ha! A study led by applied bio-geochemist Colin Whitfield from University of Saskatchewan a few years back claimed there may be a link between increased greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, and beavers. Although the risk to planet warming up to the point of cooking us to medium rare or well done steak is fairly low. Mr. Whitfiled claims although beaver-related activity “contributes to the global methane gas emissions, the magnitude of this methane source is lower than many other natural sources and unlikely to be a dominant climate change driver.”

In the near-future, however, my hope is to capture these rodents live in action chewing and gnawing on those aspens or willows before the planet goes haywire. Till then, keep encouraging my blogging efforts by appreciating and providing feedback as usual (it certainly means a lot!!)

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