Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Beavers are keystone species literally and symbolically in Canada - these engineers have a larger-than-life impact on their surroundings and have even claimed their fame as our national emblem. Beavers are an integral part of Canada's history and future.
Why they Matter to Us
- Beavers are a keystone species, meaning they have a strong impact on their surroundings which is disproportionate to their abundance.
- Beaver dams slow water, reduce erosion, and create wetland habitat beneficial for many species at all levels of the food chain.
- Ponds built by beavers store water, helping to prevent flooding downstream. These ponds also filter water in the pond, releasing cleaner water downstream.
- Beavers cut down aspen trees, promoting suckering - sucker shoots off of the roots of the 'mother' tree grow multiple new trees - rejuvenating the forest.
- Beavers are historically important and are Canada's national emblem; they are pictured on the 5 cent coin.
- Beaver pelts were very important in fur trading in the 19th century to make felt top hats. Thousands of pelts were shipped to Europe per year, endangering beaver populations across Canada.
- The Hudson’s Bay Company pictured a beaver on the shield of its coat of arms. A coin was made to equal the value of one male beaver pelt, and was known as a ‘buck’.
How You Can Help
- Donate to help EALT protect important beaver habitat.
- Volunteer to help EALT steward our natural areas and secure more areas to protect.
- Live in harmony with beavers. If a beaver family lives in your area, you can take steps to protect your favourite trees, without doing harm to the beavers. Simply wrap the trees with hardware cloth or galvanized metal fencing, to a height of at least one meter.
How to Identify
Identify by Sight
Beavers are North America's largest rodent. Their waterproof fur is reddish brown or blackish brown and consists of two layers: finer underhairs and protective guard hairs. They have round ears and long orange front teeth which grow throughout their lifetime. Their flat scaly tail is used for swimming, standing, balancing and warning. They have long front toes for building structures and webbed hind feet for swimming.
Identify by Sign
- Major structures include beaver dams and lodges.
- Other key signs include cut trees, slides from woodland slopes into a water body, drag paths leading into the water, and beaver trenches.
Where to find
Beavers live in all natural regions of Alberta except the alpine subregion. You can find beavers anywhere there are two key ingredients: trees and water. Beavers damn small streams to create a pond to sustain the family and build lodges out of sticks and mud to live in. Some beavers also burrow in river banks.
- Beavers live in family groups which consist of two adults, the young (kits) from the previous year plus any new kits that are born.
- Families live in a dome shaped lodge with underwater entrances, and an inside chamber which can measure 2.4 m wide and 1 m high.
- Kits help with construction in their second summer and before that winter, usually leave the colony to start a colony of their own.
- A family moves dams once their food source has been exhausted.
- Beavers eat the bark from trees, willows, and shrubs, and in the summer also feed on aquatic plants such as cattails and water-lilies.
- Beavers create a cache of food close to their lodge, which is accessible all winter.
- Beavers generally have a long life span but can be prey to humans, wolves, and coyotes.
- Beavers normally live up to 10 years.
- Among other aquatic adaptations, beavers have a set of transparent eyelids that work like underwater goggles!
- Beavers have large, bright orange front teeth which grow throughout their lifetime - an adaptation to help them cut and chew hardwoods such as aspen and poplar.
- Beaver lodge vents sometimes attract waterfowl such as geese or ducks as a warm place to nest and incubate their eggs.
- Many beaver lodges have a 'mother-in-law suite' where a muskrat lives and helps patch up that area of the lodge.
- Beavers are not actually responsible for the stomach ailment, "beaver fever." Beaver fever is giardiasis (caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia). Giardiasis is transmitted by drinking contaminated water. The most common carriers of the parasite are livestock, pets, and even people.