Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
C. fiber Beavers are semi-aquatic rodents native to North America and Europe. They are the only members of the family Castoridae, which contains a single genus, Castor. Genetic research has shown the European and North American beaver populations to be distinct species and that hybridization is unlikely.
The European Beaver (Castor fiber) was hunted almost to extinction in Europe, both for fur, and for castoreum , a secretion of its scent gland believed to have medicinal properties. However the beaver is now being re-introduced throughout Europe. Several thousands live on the Elbe, the Rhone and in parts of Scandinavia. They have been reintroduced in Bavaria and The Netherlands and are tending to spread to new locations. The beaver became extinct in Great Britain in the sixteenth century, but there are proposals, and a great deal of interest, in reintroducing the European Beaver to Scotland.
The American Beaver (C. canadensis) is the national animal of Canada; it is depicted on the Canadian five-cent piece and was on the first Canadian postage stamp, the Three Penny Beaver. However, in several areas of that country, it is considered a pest. It is also the state animal of Oregon, the state mammal of New York (after the historical emblem of New Netherland) and the mascot of Oregon State University. It is also a common school emblem for engineering schools, including the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The dams are created both as a protection against predators and to provide easy access to food during winter. It is the sound of water in motion that stimulates the beavers to build, and if for example a pipe is placed under the dam to drain it the beavers will not do anything about it. However they repair any damage to the dam and build it higher as long as the sound is there. Conversely, beavers will attempt to build dams in response to recordings of water flowing even in the absence of water.
The ponds created by well-maintained dams help isolate the beavers' home, their lodge, also created from severed branches and other natural sources. The lodge has an underwater entrance to make entry nearly impossible for any other animal.
Destroying a beaver dam without removing the beavers takes a lot of effort.
Beaver pelts were used as barter by Native Americans in the 17th century to gain European goods. They were then shipped back to Great Britain and France where they were made into clothing items. Widespread hunting and trapping of beavers lead to their endangerment. Eventually, the fur trade fell apart due to declining demand in Europe and the take over of trapping grounds to support the growing agriculture sector.
1911 encyclopedia text
Beaver, the largest European aquatic representative of the mammalian order RODENTIA, easily recognized by its large trowel-like, scaly tail, which is expanded in the horizontal direction.
The word is descended from the Aryan name of the animal, cf. Sanskrit babhru's, brown, the great ichneumon, Lat. fiber, Ger. Biber, Swed. bäver, Russ. bobr'; the root bhru has given "brown," and, through Romanic, "bronze" and "burnish."
The true beaver (Castor fiber) is a native of Europe and northern Asia, but it is represented in North America by a closely-allied species (C. canadensis), chiefly distinguished by the form of the nasal bones of the skull.
Beavers are nearly allied to the squirrels (Sciuridae), agreeing in certain structural peculiarities of the lower jaw and skull. In the Sciuridae the two main bones (tibia and fibula) of the lower half of the leg are quite separate, the tail is round and hairy, and the habits are arboreal and terrestrial. In the beavers or Castoridae these bones are in close contact at their lower ends, the tail is depressed, expanded and scaly, and the habits are aquatic.
Beavers have webbed hind-feet, and the claw of the second hind-toe double.
In length beavers--European and American--measure about 2 ft. exclusive of the tail, which is about 10 inches long. They are covered with a fur to which they owe their chief commercial value; this consists of two kinds of hair--the one close-set, silky and of a greyish colour, the other much coarser and longer, and of a reddish brown.
Beavers are essentially aquatic in their habits, never travelling by land unless driven by necessity. Formerly common in England, the European beaver has not only been exterminated there, but likewise in most of the countries of the continent, although a few remain on the Elbe, the Rhone and in parts of Scandinavia. The American species is also greatly diminished in numbers from incessant pursuit for the sake of its valuable fur.
Beavers are sociable animals, living in streams, where, so as to render the water of sufficient depth, they build dams of mud and of the stems and boughs of trees felled by their powerful incisor teeth. In the neighbourhood they make their "lodges," which are roomy chambers, with the entrance beneath the water. The mud is plastered down by the fore-feet, and not, as often supposed, by the tail, which is employed solely as a rudder.
They are mainly nocturnal, and subsist chiefly on bark and twigs or the roots of water plants.
The dam differs in shape according to the nature of particular localities. Where the water has little motion it is almost straight; where the current is considerable it is curved, with its convexity towards the stream. The materials made use of are driftwood, green willows, birch and poplars; also mud and stones intermixed in such a manner as contributes to the strength of the dam; but there is no particular method observed, except that the work is carried on with a regular sweep, and that all the parts are made of equal strength.
"In places," writes Hearne, "which have been long frequented by beavers undisturbed, their dams, by frequent repairing, become a solid bank, capable of resisting a great force both of ice and water; and as the willow, poplar and birch generally take root and shoot up, they by degrees form a kind of regular planted hedge, which I have seen in some places so tall that birds have built their nests among the branches."
Their houses are formed of the same materials as the dams, with little order or regularity of structure, and seldom contain more than four old, and six or eight young beavers. It not unfrequently happens that some of the larger houses have one or more partitions, but these are only posts of the main building left by the builders to support the roof, for the apartments have usually no communication with each other except by water.
The beavers carry the mud and stones with their fore-paws and the timber between their teeth. They always work in the night and with great expedition. They cover their houses late every autumn with fresh mud, which, freezing when the frost sets in, becomes almost as hard as stone, so that neither wolves nor wolverines can disturb their repose.
The favourite food of the American beaver is the water-lily (Nuphar luteum), which bears a resemblance to a cabbage-stalk, and grows at the bottom of lakes and rivers. Beavers also gnaw the bark of birch, poplar and willow trees; but during the summer a more varied herbage, with the addition of berries, is consumed.
When the ice breaks up in spring they always leave their embankments, and rove about until a little before the fall of the leaf, when they return to their old habitations, and lay in their winter stock of wood. They seldom begin to repair the houses till the frost sets in, and never finish the outer coating till the cold becomes severe. When they erect a new habitation they fell the wood early in summer, but seldom begin building till towards the end of August.
Castoreum is a substance contained in two pear-shaped pouches situated near the organs of reproduction, of a bitter taste and slightly foetid odour, at one time largely employed as a medicine, but now used only in perfumery.
Fossil remains of beavers are found in the peat and other superficial deposits of England and the continent of Europe; while in the Pleistocene formations of England and Siberia occur remains of a giant extinct beaver, Trogontherium cuvieri, representing a genus by itself.
- ITIS 180211 2002-12-14
- Canadian Heritage - the beaver as a national symbol
- A website about reintroducing the beaver to Scotland
- The romance of the beaver; being the history of the beaver in the western hemisphere, by A. Radclyffe Dugmore. Illustrated with photographs from life and drawings by the author. Publisher: Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott company; London, W. Heinemann 1914 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries)
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