An in depth look at the beaver

An in depth look at the beaver


Posted 29th Jan 2018


Did you know the beaver is the largest Eurasian rodent?

It was originally widespread over northern and temperate Eurasis, but was nearly hunted to the point of extinction for its fur and for castoreum, a secretion of it's scent gland which is believed to have medicinal properties. It's now been reintroduced to numerous European locations, in some cases with great success - by 2003, the estimated European population stood at 600,000. The beaver returned to Britain in 2009, after becoming extinct dring the 16th century..

They're incredibly busy animals, which have an ability to alter their surroundings. Their impacts on vegetation have proven to be the most striking. They move woody and other plant materials through their home range, some of which will regenerate in new locations. Felling small trees and bushes for food and dam construction, beavers will live in family groups of three to five, which comprise of an adult pair, kits, yearlings and one or more sub-adults.

Females will normally reach their reproductive age at three years, and produce one litter each year of between two to three kits. Longevity is typically seven or eight years, but specimens of up to 25 years have been recorded.

Following an entirely herbivorous diet, they eat mainly aquatic plants in late spring and summer, along with grasses, ferns and shrubs. Throughout the rest of the year, woody species will form the majority of its diet.

How to identify

The same size as a Labrador dog but with shorter legs, beavers are robust, heavily built, and weigh up to 38kg. It's body length is between 75 to 90cm. They have two distinct features - a broad, flat tail, which is between 29 to 38cm long and covered with scales, and also webbed feet. Their eyes and ears are small, with the fur of southern forms being lighter in shade than the northern forms. It's essentially aquatic, and will walk slowly and clumsily, but will swim and dive strongly. It's mainly nocturnal, and emerges just before the sunset, but it can be found during the day in quiet areas. Red foxes don't hibernate but are shy, wary, and usually silent - however, they will sometimes growl, hiss or scream. They nest in underground holes in high banks, with an underwater entrance.

Where to find it

In recent years, small numbers were reintroduced to locations in England, Wales and Scotland from mainland Europe. They prefer habitats which are open woods alongside rivers, old river beds and lakes. Woodlands include oaks, ashes, alders, elms, willows, poplars and birches with undergrowth. If you're looking to see them in the wild, you can visit the Scottish beaver trial at Knapdale, Argyll.

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trust - image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust





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