Take tips from beavers for summer fun

In going about their daily lives, beavers help make forests a better place for other animals to live.
In going about their daily lives, beavers help make forests a better place for other animals to live. Courtesy

North American beavers (Castor canadensis) are among the busiest rodents. Have you ever heard the saying “busy as a beaver?” In addition to building their own homes, beavers create habitats for other animals – and love to socialize and play.

Here are five ways you can be more like a beaver this summer.

Tip 1: Create your own shelter

Have you ever pitched a tent outdoors, or gathered all the pillows and blankets in your house for an epic pillow fort? It’s amazingly satisfying to put a roof over your own head, even if it’s just for fun.

Beavers are known for creating their own homes, called lodges. Made of branches and logs, and plastered with mud, lodges are usually located in the middle of a pond. They are sometimes accessible only through underwater entrances. This design deters other animals from disrupting the shelter (or the family inside). In order to build a lodge, a beaver family needs a pond that is deep enough and wide enough to provide that protection.

To increase or maintain a pond’s water level, beavers construct dams out of wood, mud, stones and plant parts. What might just look like a pile of logs to us is actually a very helpful structure to a beaver.

Collecting logs for building is a project in itself. Beavers aren’t allowed in Home Depot, so they cut down their own logs using powerful teeth. A beaver's front teeth grow continuously and are harder on the front than the back. As a result, the back wears down faster, creating a sharp edge that is perfect for gnawing and cutting.

Tip 2: Hang out with your family

If you spent the summer by yourself, you’d probably get bored. A beaver would feel the same way. They love to play and socialize with their family members every day. Beavers live in family groups called colonies.

A typical beaver colony may have up to 12 members, including the parents, their youngest offspring, and a few older offspring. Everyone helps out: Both parents feed and protect their young, and older offspring also help with house duties and food collection.

Each colony has a home range of about a half-mile. Beavers mark their territory with scents, which is kind of like putting your family name on your mailbox. A scent marking says “We live here! This spot is taken.”

Tip 3: Eat a healthy snack

Nothing tastes better than fresh veggies found at the local farmers market. North American beavers have diets based on the plants found in their natural range, which includes Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. They love to eat bark, twigs, aquatic plants, and the leaves and roots of deciduous trees.

A plant-based diet means consuming a lot of cellulose, which is a long chain of molecules that is found in the cell walls of plants. These molecules give wood its strength, so as you can imagine, they can be difficult to digest. Beavers have special micro-organisms that help them digest and use about 30 percent of the cellulose they consume. You, too, have a forest of micro-organisms in your guts that help you digest food.

Tip 4: Go for a swim

What’s the best way to cool off in summer (aside from eating Popsicles all day)? Taking a dip in the pool, of course. Swimming is a refreshing activity for lots of animals and a major part of the beaver lifestyle.

Beavers have lots of built-in features that make them perfectly suited for life on the water. For example, large webbed feet act like flippers, giving them powerful momentum, while their thick tails act like rudders. Transparent eyelids help them see clearly underwater, and they can even close their ear canals and nasal openings to keep water out.

Beavers also have dense underfur, which is carefully maintained and waterproofed with castor oil. A beaver spends a lot of time grooming its fur and even has a special “comb claw” on each hind foot.

In short, if you were a beaver, you could leave your swim goggles and flippers behind. (P.S. Don’t ever get in a breath-holding contest with a beaver — they can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes.)

Tip 5: Help habitats

All living things are connected, and every animal needs a home. Protecting and creating homes for other animals is a great habit to practice every summer (and the rest of the year, too). You can try it yourself by planting trees, building bird houses or bat shelters, or volunteering for habitat restoration projects.

Beavers modify their surroundings quite a bit. In the process of creating lodges, dams and canals, they create rich habitats for other animals. Cutting down trees allows shrubby plants to grow, which are great food for deer and elk in winter. Beaver ponds also attract frogs that are hunted by weasels, raccoons, herons and others. Ducks and geese may build nests on top of beavers’ lodges.

A beaver colony is a good thing for a healthy forest.