Do Beavers Really Eat Wood?

I am fascinated by rodents, and the beaver is the world’s second-largest rodent after capybara. Do you remember The Angry Beavers cartoon on Nickelodeon?

Although I was more of a Cartoon Network kind of kid myself, the Angry Beavers were so adorable and funny that I’m sure they’ve sparked an interest in beavers in thousands if not millions of kids around the world.

Do beavers eat wood?

They eat most of it. Beavers eat parts of trees, specifically, the leaves, inner bark, and twigs of aspen, alder, birch, cottonwood, willow, and other deciduous trees. Beavers also eat shrubs, ferns, aquatic plants, grasses, and crops, including corn and beans. They stop eating the tree after they eat the cambium as the heartwood itself is mostly indigestible cellulose.

What Do Beavers Eat?

Some of their favorite foods include water lily tubers, clover, apples, leaves, and cambium from Aspen or other fast-growing trees. Cambium is a layer of delicate meristematic tissue between the inner bark and the wood, which produces new bark on the outside and new wood on the inside in stems and roots and forming the annual rings of wood.

Beavers do not hibernate and remain active throughout the winter and that’s why they need a constant food supply during the winter and that’s the reason they have a “fridge” underwater.

Contrary to popular belief, beavers do not eat fish because they are herbivores. They bring whole branches back to their pond. And there, where the water is deepest, they dive down and push each branch firmly into the mud at the bottom.

This is the beavers’ “fridge”, where the vegetation will keep fresh through the long winter when the pond is covered with ice. Stocking the fridge takes a lot of work and the beavers are at their busiest in autumn.

Why Do Beavers Build Dams?

Often called the engineers of the animal world, beavers build dams to make ponds where calm and deep water is not available. Dams are created as a protection against predators and to provide easy access to food during winter.

Beaver dams are constructed and maintained with whatever materials are available, such as wood, stones, mud, and available plant parts. Beavers living on water bodies that maintain a constant level do not build dams.

They can build some pretty massive dams of up to 10 feet (3m) high and over 330 feet (100m) wide. The largest beaver dam is in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada and measures 2,790 feet (850 m) in length and is a combination of two original dams.

If the water is deep enough, the beavers will forgo building a damn and will live in bank burrows and lodges but if water is not deep enough to keep beavers safe from predators and their lodge entrances ice-free, beavers build dams.

The dam is so important to them that if they detect the slightest leak, usually by hearing the sound of trickling water, they start repair work immediately. The repair team will labor away until the leak is fully repaired by using mud as well as logs.

Beaver, Friend Or Foe?

There are two living species of beavers; the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). There is also an extinct species called Castor californicus that lived in western North America from the end of the Miocene to the early Pleistocene.

There are many benefits coming from beavers making their dams but also some drawbacks. Let’s cover the benefits first.

More than most other environments, wetlands depend heavily on beaver dams. A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, and is distinguished from other landforms or water bodies by the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil.

Beaver In His Natural Habitat
Beaver In His Natural Habitat

Beavers’ dams create habitat for many other animals and plants and help breakdown of toxins such as pesticides and herbicides.

Their dams have been shown to be beneficial to frog and toad populations, fish populations such as salmon and trout, and bird populations.

What about the downsides and why do some people consider them to be pests?

Well, beavers can fell as many as 300 trees in a year! Some of the trees are also valuable, rare, or important trees, and felled trees can pose a hazard to utility lines and buildings.

Governments and/or environmental organizations and others work with landowners and farmers to come up with environmentally sound methods of beaver dam control.

This can be done by humanely trapping and removing the beavers or by using beaver pipes, corrugated plastic pipes stuck in a beaver dam, and routed to a specific location, to control and prevent flooding caused by dams.

Other methods are used to prevent them from coming to the area at all, like fences, electric fences, painting trees with a special repellent, wrapping the lower part of trees with a wire, etc.

Where Do Beavers Sleep?

The dams are not the homes of beavers. They build lodges to live in, give birth, raise young and store food. A beaver colony is able to build a large lodge in only a couple of nights. Most lodges have at least two different entrances.

Even when the pond ices over completely, they’re still able to swim under the ice to get back and forth to their lodge.

Beavers even make a short chimney or skylight when they build their lodges, to allow fresh air in. And beavers keep the floors of their rooms tidy with wood shavings.

Related Questions

Do Beavers Hibernate?

I’ve touched upon this earlier; beavers do not hibernate but rather remain active throughout the winter.

What are beavers’ natural predators?

Although, the second-largest rodent in the world, the beaver alone wards off many smaller hunters like foxes, mink, and hawks. There are still plenty of threats in the forests, including wolves, bears, wolverines, pumas, and other predators.

But of course, as is the case with many, many other wild animals, their biggest predator is the man. By polluting their waters, destroying their natural habitat, and traping them for fur, people are beavers’ biggest enemies.

Are Beavers Aggressive?

Beavers will defend themself if they feel attacked and that’s when they are very aggressive. They may even attack humans if trapped or cornered but beavers are not dangerous or aggressive if left alone and they even send a warning by growling and hissing. Beaver’s sharp teeth may cause serious injury as well as infection.

How many trees can a beaver cut down?

Beavers can cut down as many as 200 trees a year. Beavers that build dams cut down trees more often than bank beavers and mostly softwood trees such as cottonwoods or willows. The reason behind it is that they need the timber to build their dams.

Beavers choose small trees to cut down because the bark is thinner and easier to digest but in reality, they can cut down even big trees.

What time of day are beavers most active?

Beavers are the most active at night as that’s the time when they are eating or collecting their food and storing it at the bottom of the pond aka “fridge” as mentioned earlier. They can occasionally be seen during the day. If you would want to see one, the best time would be at dusk.

Do beavers make sounds? (Are they vocal?)

Beavers make sounds and are quite vocal. They live in groups called colonies and communicate with each other by growling and barking. They also communicate using body language and they slap their tails against the water to warn others of the danger.

Tell me, have you watched The Angry Beavers? Did you (or do you) prefer cartoons from CN or Nick?

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.