Beavers are more than just vanilla-smelling, clever engineers in the animal kingdom. There is so much to learn about their biology and ancestry too. They are more than just fluffy furballs with big tails and buck teeth!
What Kind Of Animal Is A Beaver?
Table of Contents
The beaver is an amphibious rodent that is native to North America, Europe, and Asia.
Beavers are social animals that live in groups with strong, stable family bonds. They like to form colonies and are primarily nocturnal, crepuscular to be specific. Meaning they are active between sunset and sunrise.
Also called by its scientific name, Castor Canadensis, the North American beaver, and its counterpart, the Eurasian beaver is the largest rodent in North America, Europe, and Asia. Beavers are the second-largest rodent in the world next to the capybara.
What’s Rodent-Like About The Beaver?
Beavers share distinct rodent-like features as the other members of the Rodentia order.
You may not notice it at first glance because beavers look like cute stuffed animals but they share similar defining features as their rat cousins.
The Beaver’s Large Incisor Teeth
All rodents have big incisor teeth that continuously grow throughout their lives so they have to constantly chew to prevent their teeth from growing too big for their mouths. This is why they chew on wood all day.
In the beaver’s case, their incisor teeth are orange because they contain iron compounds that make them tough and durable. Perfect for chewing and gnawing on bark, twigs, plants, and even trees.
Did you know that beavers can chew through a decent-sized wooden log in five minutes and they can chew underwater?
The Beaver’s Stocky Body
Beavers have round bodies which make them look naturally fat. They also have large heads and stocky necks like many rodents do.
Their bodies are built for moving large objects, like logs and branches, so don’t be deceived by their cuteness. They’re actually pretty strong!
The Beaver’s Large Tail
All rodents have tails but in the case of beavers, their tails are designed for navigating the water.
The beaver’s tail is black, flat, broad, and scaly. It is shaped like a paddle which functions like a boat rudder to help them steer in the water while they are swimming.
This is important because beavers move logs and large materials constantly to build their dams. Their tails give them the power to navigate the water despite their heavy loads.
Other Uses Of The Beaver’s Tails
Beavers use their tails to warn other members of their family of danger and intruders by “slapping” the water and making a loud sound. This also serves as a warning to predators who can get pretty startled by this.
What’s The Beaver’s Closest Relative?
Although beavers belong to a large order of rodents, their closest relatives are the following:
- Kangaroo rats and mice
- Pocket mice
- Spiny pocket mice
Surprised? Me too! They don’t look much alike but these rodents belong to the same rodent suborder Castorimorpha, as the beavers.
What Other Animals Are Beavers Related To?
Beavers are related to other members of the rodent family – and there are a lot of them! Some of these animals are:
- Rats and mice
- Prairie dogs
- Guinea pigs
- Other members of the rodent order
Are There Different Kinds Of Beavers?
There are only two kinds of beavers, the North American beavers, and the Eurasian beavers, both known to be the largest rodents in their native regions.
The North American Beavers
Also known as Castor Canadensis, the Northern American beavers are native to the North American region (in case you haven’t guessed). Large portions of their population are found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Compared to their Eurasian counterpart, the Northern American beavers are smaller, have more rounded heads, have wider muzzles, thicker and darker underfurs, and wider, more oval tails.
The Eurasian Beavers
The Eurasian beavers (Castor Fiber) are native to Europe and Asia and are found mostly in Central Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Spain, China, and Mongolia.
Their features vary slightly from the Northern American beavers.
Their heads are less rounded, they have longer narrower muzzles, and their furs vary in color between regions, from chestnut-rust to brown and blackish brown.
Where Did The Beaver Come From?
According to scientific evidence from fossils, beavers came from an ancient ancestor called dipoides that lived in the late Eocene and early Oligocene periods around 33 million years ago.
The ancient beavers, dipoides, originated in North America and dispersed through Europe and Asia. They were small-bodied animals that adapted to a burrowing lifestyle.
Evidence showed that they were wood eaters although not as good a woodcutter as those after their time.
How Did The Beavers Evolve?
Beavers today have come a long way. From their ancient ancestors, the dipoides 33 million years ago, they evolved into semi-aquatic animals, castoroides in the Miocene period.
These are giant beavers the size of a bear and are believed to have weighed up to 220 pounds. They are bark eaters and woodcutters, and they build dams and lodges similar to the modern beavers we know and love today.
Who Are Some Of The Beaver’s Ancestors?
There are two known beaver ancestors based on fossil evidence. These are the ancient beavers called dipoides and ancient giant beavers castoroides.
Beavers are actually a pretty old species that hasn’t changed much throughout its evolution!
Is The Beaver A Keystone Species?
Yes, beavers are a keystone species. This is why efforts are made to protect their population.
The dams they build turn streams into wetland habitats like ponds and lakes that other species call home. They create new ecosystems for other animals to thrive in. Their dams also help prevent soil erosion and flooding. They even help reduce the impact of climate change.
Beavers increase biodiversity in nature. If the beaver population declines or becomes endangered, other animals and nature will be drastically affected. The whole ecosystem that they inhabit can collapse.
We should be thankful to beavers!
What Other Animals Rely On Beavers?
The beaver population is a force of nature. Their dams become habitats for birds, insects, and fish. It is also a healthy food source and hunting ground for other animals.
Trees, plants, and foliage flourish because of their activities.
Their engineering efforts modify and improve the environment they live in which helps plants and other animals in return.
Animals That Rely On Beavers
- Fish – small fish, coho, salmon, etc.
- Amphibians – Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, etc.
- Wild cats
- Other predators
What Animals Are Beavers Not Related To?
Beavers are often mistaken as relatives of otters and weasels because of some similarities in their features.
What most people do not know is that they are not even closely related to weasels, otters, platypuses, minks, ferrets, skunks, wild cats, dogs, and other animals that are not rodents.
Looks can be deceiving, indeed!