The beaver, North America’s largest rodent at 30 to 60 pounds, formerly lived throughout most of the United States and Canada. The social demand for beaver hats in the East and Europe in the early 1800s played a major role in the opening of large areas of the West. Luckily for the beaver, the style of hats changed in the 1850s.
The beaver’s flat, scaly tail, 10 to 12 inches long and six inches wide, is used for:
- providing some propulsion
- serving as a prop when standing
- slapping the water as a warning to other beavers.
The hind feet are webbed and provide most of the propulsion when the beaver swims. The very dense under fur traps air providing insulation. The upper and lower pair of large, gnawing teeth, chestnut colored on the front surfaces, continually grow to counteract the wear from felling trees up to a foot and a half in diameter and cutting branches and twigs for food which they store on the bottom of their ponds.
Trees and branches are used for building dams some of which are over a quarter mile long, and for constructing their lodges complete with underwater entrances. Sometimes they will burrow into the bank especially along rivers. The ponds created by beavers provide habitat for other animals and reduce the damage from stream flooding. Beavers usually have two to four kits that leave home or are driven out after two years.
Sightings at Bighorn Canyon
Dams and stumps with teeth marks are sure signs of the beaver. One of the best places to sight a beaver at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is along the Beaver Pond Nature Trail that starts at the Afterbay Contact Station in the North District. This half mile hike will takes visitors through prime beaver habitat.
Did You Know
- Beavers can live to be 20 years old and grow to weigh 75 lbs. They are the 2nd largest rodent in the world
- Beavers are very fast swimmers, but awkward on land and therefore easy prey for predators. The reason they build dams is so they have a larger wetland area where they can get food and avoid predators.
- Beavers have been known to make dams 200 feet long.
- Beavers don’t eat wood, they eat the inner bark on trees. They have to constantly gnaw on wood because their front incisor teeth are always growing.
- The only animals that change their habitat more than beavers are humans.