With their strong jaws and teeth, beavers can chew through a six-inch tree in 15 minutes. A single beaver can chew down hundreds of trees each year.
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
Beavers don’t just live off the land—they modify it to fit their needs. Only humans change the landscape more. A beaver’s hard work creates valuable wetlands, but occasionally problems for people living nearby.
What They Eat
Where They Live
What They Do
How They’re Doing
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
Because beavers’ front teeth never stop growing, they must gnaw, chew, and chop wood constantly to keep them filed down.
Beavers’ ability to survive winter depends on the condition of their coats. They groom their fur regularly using the claws on their hind feet as a comb. A special gland at the base of the tail provides oil (like a hair tonic) that is worked into the fur to waterproof it.
A thick skull supports large teeth for gnawing, and serves the same purpose as a hard hat, helping protect beavers from falling trees.
Beaver dams can become quite large-as much as a half mile long. That’s four times as long as the entire Minnesota Trail.
The pelt of a beaver is comprised of long, coarse guard hairs over a thick, wooly undercoat. This luxuriant pelt lured early trappers and voyageurs to Minnesota and actually led to the early exploration and settlement of our state.
Beavers are slow on land, but excellent swimmers. A beaver can spend 15 minutes underwater before coming up for air.Beavers’ tails serve many purposes:
Care at the Zoo
Cutting down trees and gnawing on wood is important to beavers’ physical and mental well-being. At the zoo, keepers cut small trees and place them upright in holders in the beaver exhibit so the animals have trees to work on.
Following overexploitation for the fur trade, conservation programs have re-established the American beaver throughout its historical range. It is now abundant and there are currently no major threats to this species.
Voyageurs National Park (VNP), in northern Minnesota, supports one of the highest densities of beavers in North America. Because of the significant cultural, ecological, and scientific importance of beavers to VNP, in 2004 the park initiated a beaver research and monitoring program. Among other things, this project investigates the rate of diseases and parasites in the beaver population.
In 2007 the Minnesota Zoo provided funding to associate veterinarian Dr. Tiffany Wolf to participate in an ongoing VNP beaver research and monitoring program. She collected samples from VNP beavers to learn more about their health, and surgically implanted radio transmitters in 30 beavers to help track their movements during the winter. This project is ongoing.
Beavers are North America’s largest rodents. Famous for modifying their environment, their heavy compact bodies, broad, black tails and large, powerful incisors are their most distinctive features. They are also known for their luxurious coats-chestnut brown to burnt umber in color. The beavers’ scientific name (Castor canadensis) describes the castor glands located at the base of their tails. These glands excrete a strong-smelling, oily substance used to for scent marking, attracting mates, and waterproofing coats.
Range and Habitat
The average beaver lodge is 5 feet high, 20 feet in diameter, and has 2 entrances below water and ice levels. Parents, yearlings, and new kits live together in one lodge. The colony usually works together to build and repair the dam, working and feeding in late afternoon and through the night. Beavers may also live in stream bank dens with underwater entrances and not attempt to build dams.
Beavers and Their Dams
Agents of Change
The fur trade changed with animals as well. Over 250 years, the number of beaver and other prized animals dropped. Fewer beavers meant fewer dams, gradually less wetland, and therefore less habitat for frogs, toads, and animals on up the food chain.
People Following Animals: Dakota, Ojibwe, French, British, Americans, and many others moved and traded beaver for other goods in a truly global economy. In fact, the political entity that is now Minnesota got its start because of the fur trade.