Scientific name: Castor canadensis
Claim to fame: This large, flat-tailed mammal is known by many people for its felling of trees and subsequent construction of dams in small streams. In the fur industry, it’s also known for its high-quality pelt. In Missouri, beavers can be trapped from November 15 through March 31. Beavers also have the distinction of being North America’s largest rodent.
Species status: Beavers can be found throughout Missouri and in most parts of North America.
First discovered: Beavers were known to Native Americans and to early explorers and trappers. It was the quest for beaver pelts that led to the initial European exploration and settlement of many parts of the country, including Missouri. St. Louis was founded as a fur-trading outpost and, due its strategic position at the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, was known internationally in the fur industry by the middle of the 19th century.
Family matters: Beavers belong to the mammal family Castoridae. The only two species remaining in this species are the North American beaver and the European beaver (Castor fiber).
Length: 34 to 54 inches
Diet: A beaver’s diet varies with the season. During winter, woody vegetation comprises nearly 100 percent of the creature’s food intake. In spring and fall, that proportion drops to about 50 percent, and it reduces further in summer. The non-woody part of a beaver’s diet consists of aquatic plants, shrubs and corn from the milk stage on.
Weight: 26 to 90 pounds
Distinguishing characteristics: Beavers have a dark brown coloration over most of their bodies and webbed hind feet. The flat tail is used as a rudder and propeller when swimming, as a support for the body when cutting a tree and as a balancing device when walking. It is often slapped vigorously on the water as a warning to other beavers and as scare tactic to startle intruders. A beaver’s eyes are protected by a membrane to give it better vision underwater. (A drawback to this feature, however, is that a beaver’s above-water vision is only fair.) A beaver’s ears and nose have valve-like skin flaps that close when the beaver submerges. One of a beaver’s best-known traits is dam-building,
Life span: Beavers can live up to 10 years in the wild and more than 20 years in captivity.
Habitat: In Missouri, beavers live along streams, rivers and marshes.
Life cycle: Breeding begins in January and February. A single litter of usually three or four young is born in April, May or June. The young are weaned at about six weeks but remain with the family for about two years.