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Leave it to Beavers!

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By Carley Goodreau

Busy as a beaver! These famously industrious creatures can be found building dams in ponds and on the Canadian nickel. Beavers cut trees with their teeth, spend time both in and out of the water, and build dams to create ponds they can live in. Beavers are the second largest rodent in the world, and weigh in at 16 to 29 kilograms (35 to 65 pounds).1 Easily recognizable by their long, orange, front teeth and flat, broad tail,2 “nature’s engineer”3 lead fascinating social lives.
Beaver patient in care at AIWC (2022).

Colonies, Lodges, and Family Structure

Beaver families that share a lodge are called colonies and typically consist of 6-7 beavers: an adult breeding pair, their babies known as kits, and other offspring up to two years old.4 At age 2, kits leave the colony to find a mate, a new pond, and build their own lodge.5 Beavers have a very organized social structure and follow a hierarchy, where the adult breeding pair are at the top.6 This lends to a very stable family life, where both parents are very active in raising their young.7 Beaver colonies share the work between members, dividing up tasks for each to do. These tasks include maintaining the lodge by adding mud to waterproof the walls, gathering food and building supplies, and digging channels.8 Beavers store food in the cold water underneath the lodge to preserve it, and everyone in the colony eats from the common larder.9 Beavers feed mainly on plants, leaves, and woody sticks and stems.10
While young beavers still live in the lodge with their parents, they will wrestle with siblings to develop motor skills, and groom each other with their hands and teeth. They are born with the ability to build lodges and dams, but still learn from watching adults do these tasks.11

The Sounds and Scents of Beaver Communications

Beavers have many methods of communication and use them each in different situations. Adult beavers will slap the flat surface of their tail loudly on the surface of the water to alert other beavers that there is danger in the area.12 With other members in the colony, beavers will vocalize (hiss, grunt) and postures to communicate and assert dominance.13 Another important method of communication for beavers is through smell. Around their edges of their territory, beavers will build piles of mud and sticks, called scent mounds. Beavers leave oil secretions from their anal glands on these scent mounds to communicate with their family.14 This method is also used to attract a mate.
Beaver pair (National Parks Gallery).

Mates For Life

Beavers are monogamous and mate for life. Only 3% of mammals in the world are monogamous.15 Along with beavers, other monogamous animals that live in Alberta include bald eagles, great horned owls, and gray wolves.16

When a female beaver is ready to find a mate, she will excrete pheromones on scent mounds in wooded areas near her habitat.17 Male beavers in the area, attracted to this scent, will look for her. The best mates are the largest and healthiest, but unlike some other species, it is rare that beavers will fight over a mate.18

Adult beavers stay together after the kits leave the lodge, and the pairings last the lifespan of beavers – as much as 10-15 years!19 Beavers will find a new mate if one dies but will first observe a ‘mourning period’ and wait some time before pairing up again.20

Not in My Pond!

Although beavers are very social and rarely alone, they tend to avoid interaction with other beavers outside of their colonies.21 In fact, beavers are very territorial and will attack other beavers that enter their ponds.22 This puts young 2-3 year old beavers in a very dangerous situation when they leave their parents lodge in a search for their own habitat.23 Being monogamous with another beaver is a form of safety and protection for beavers due to this territorial nature.24

Beaver patient released back to the wild! (2023)

We hope you enjoyed learning about the active social lives of busy beavers. The clinic staff rehabilitated and successfully released a beaver kit last summer, and you can find that story in AIWC’s summer 2023 newsletter! Be sure to check out recent newsletters for updates on current patients and other exciting news from AIWC.

References

  1.  “Beaver,” Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, accessed February 20, 2024, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/beaver.
  2.  “Beaver,” Smithsonian.

  3. “Exploring with Beavers, Nature’s Ecosystem Engineers,” Defenders of Wildlife, September 28, 2016, https://defenders.org/blog/2016/09/exploring-beavers-natures-ecosystem-engineers.

  4. Alina Bradford, “Facts About Beavers,” Land Mammals, LiveScience, October 15, 2015, https://www.livescience.com/52460-beavers.html#:~:text=Beavers%20are%20very%20social%20and,winter%2C%20from%20January%20to%20March
  5.  Bradford, “Facts About Beavers.”

  6. “Beaver,” Smithsonian.

  7.  Tommy Wylde, “Beavers: Mating, Reproduction, Babies, And More,” Floofmania, last updated October 12, 2023, https://floofmania.com/american-beavers/beavers-reproduction/ 
  8. “Beaver,” Hinterland’s Who’s Who, Canadian Wildlife Federation, accessed February 20, 2024, https://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/beaver.html 
  9. “Beaver,” Smithsonian.

  10. “Beaver,” Hinterland’s.
  11. “Beaver Behaviour and Biology,” Beaver Facts, Beaver Solutions, accessed February 20, 2024, https://www.beaversolutions.com/beaver-facts-education/beaver-behavior-and-biology/
  12.  “Beaver,” Smithsonian.

  13. “Beaver,” Smithsonian.

  14.  “Beaver,” Smithsonian.
  15.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”

  16.  Claire Nowak, “11 Monogamous Animals That Mate for Life (It’s Not Just Penguins),” Reader’s Digest, last updated July 22, 2021, https://www.rd.com/list/animals-mate-for-life/

  17.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.
  18.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
  19.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
  20.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
  21.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
  22.  “Beaver Behaviour,” Beaver Solutions.

  23.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
  24.  Wylde, “Beavers: Mating.”
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