Among all the rodents that live on our planet, the largest in the Old World is the river beaver. It usually lives in both rivers and lakes. You can find many enthusiastic descriptions and reviews about this animal, as it amazes a person with its diligence. It personifies order, is often found in fairy tales, and acts there as a positive hero. But what is a river beaver, where does it live and what species does it exist?
Origin of the species and description
Unfortunately, most people know about this animal only by hearsay. Not everyone can even pronounce its name correctly. For example, the word «beaver» confused with «beaver». Meanwhile, the second word denotes the name of the fur of this animal. Although no one adheres to these rules in spoken language anymore.
Video: River Beaver
The beaver family is known on different continents. It is known about 22 genera, and for the first time this species of animals appears in Asia. Some varieties were very large. To our time, fossilized remains have been preserved, which scientists date back to the Eocene.
The most famous beaver, the species of which disappeared a long time ago — it is a giant that has existed since the Pleistocene. Science knows about its two varieties — this is the Siberian Trogontherium cuvieri, as well as the North American Castoroides ohioensis.
If the calculations were carried out correctly, then according to the skull fossils, the height of the animal reached 2.75 m, and its total weight was 350-360 kg. That is, it was similar in size to a brown bear. The modern species of the beaver used to live in Europe and Asia, almost everywhere in the forest-meadow zone. But by the beginning of the 20th century, this animal was practically exterminated on most of the planet because of its valuable fur.
Appearance and features
Today, only 2 species of beaver can be found in nature. We are talking about an ordinary beaver, which can be found on the territory of Eurasia, as well as a Canadian species that lives in North America. In their appearance, no differences were found between them. And their habits are very similar, they have the same sizes.
But, as recent studies have shown, the differences between them are observed at the genetic level. The European beaver has 48 chromosomes, while its relative from the American continent has only 40. This means that these two species cannot be crossed to produce a new variety.
There are several features of the beaver, regarding its appearance, general physical image:
- if you do not take into account the length of the tail, the animal can grow up to 1 meter in length;
- the length of the tail can be from 0.4 to 0.5 m;
- if this is a young beaver, its weight is usually 30-32 kg;
- an old male can gain weight up to 45 kg;
- the average lifespan of this rodent is 15-17 years;
- such an animal does not stop growing until death. When comparing a male to a female, the female is usually larger.
The color of the beaver’s fur is brown in most cases. But it all depends on his age, so the fur can be either red or completely black. These animals love to care for him, constantly combing. To do this, they use their hind legs, which have forked claws. During combing, the fur is immediately covered with a special fatty secret. Thanks to this «fur coat» the beaver does not get wet even when it stays in the water for a long time.
The fur of the river beaver has two compositions: a hard outer hair, as well as a soft and at the same time dense fluffy undercoat. This is a very good protection for the animal from hypothermia.
But the beaver has another protection against the cold — it is a thick layer of subcutaneous fat. The head of the animal, when compared with the body, is large. The muzzle is narrow, and the eyes with ears are small. The main feature of this animal — these are two large protruding incisors. Yes, and his teeth are unusual, distinguished by self-sharpening, and they grow all his life. His paws are five-fingered, with membranes, thanks to which it is easier for him to move in the water. And the claws are not only large, but also rounded. The hind legs are much more developed than the front ones.
The second feature of the beaver — this is his tail, which looks like the oar of a boat. He has it completely flat, and besides, it is covered not with wool, but with dense horny scales. In the middle of the entire tail runs the same horn «keel». The tail can be up to 13 cm wide and is used in the water for quick maneuverability and swimming.
Where does the beaver live?
Beavers are considered semi-aquatic rodents, as they can stay on both land and water for a long time. Usually they only swim, although they can dive.
On the territory of the European continent, this animal can be found in different places:
- in the Scandinavian countries, as there are many lakes and wooded areas;
- in France, and usually only the lower Rhone;
- in Germany, mainly we are talking about the Elbe River basin;
- in Poland, usually the Vistula basin.
If we take into account the countries of the Former USSR, beavers are found here in Ukraine, Belarus and in Russia. Usually this is the European forest-steppe part of these states.
Since this animal is under protection today, it can be found almost throughout Russia. It is found both in China and Mongolia. Finding out the habitat of this rodent is very simple. It is enough to see if there are fallen trees near the reservoirs, and everything will immediately become clear. But only the place of the cut should have a conical shape. Beavers build dams from fallen trees and branches. This is evidence that such rodents are around here.
But to meet the home of the beaver — it’s a big stroke of luck. Usually they hide it securely so that it cannot be seen from the outside. They build it in hard-to-reach places, and settle there with the whole family. Rivers are chosen for their habitat, but only with a slow course. Streams and lakes are also suitable for them.
Interestingly, they still avoid too large reservoirs. They can only be found where there are many trees and bushes. If we are talking about a river, then it should flow through the forest. Or at least there should be many different trees on the shore. If a pond freezes to the bottom in winter, you will definitely not find a beaver there.
What does a beaver eat?
But the presence of water — this is still not enough for beavers to settle here. For their full life, an abundance of food is also needed. These animals are vegetarians, they do not eat any meat food at all. Their main food — it is the bark and young shoots of various trees and bushes. Among the main trees, the most favorite for the beaver is birch, aspen, willow, and also poplar. And if the linden grows, its bark is perfect for food.
As for herbaceous plants, it makes absolutely no sense to list them. Bulrush, sedge, nettle — it is only part of their daily diet. According to the observation of scientists for beavers who lived in freedom, they can use up to 300 species of various plants for food. And besides, we are talking about both aquatic and purely terrestrial plants.
But here one important clarification needs to be made: beavers choose only species of soft trees as food. Although you can find fallen oaks and alders, and from the cut it is immediately noticeable that this is the work of beavers, but only they use these trees not for food, but for building a dwelling or a dam. By the way, they build it so that their house is constantly on the water. In this way, they try to avoid situations so that the water recedes and the dwelling is on land.
If a beaver has chosen several types of trees, then he will no longer change his diet. He also likes acorns very much, thanks to his teeth he easily copes with them. In the summer, they feed on a wide variety of plants, and in the fall they begin to forage for the winter.
Usually they try to place branches in the water in such a way that they can be accessed. This is especially true when the reservoir freezes in winter. For one family, a large amount of such food will be needed, which must be flooded in water. And although there will be a layer of ice on top, there will still be access to food from the dwelling under water.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
A beaver can swim in water for a long time. On land, he is very slow, moving rather poorly. But in the water he feels complete freedom. When diving, it can stay under water for up to 15 minutes. When diving, the auricles and nasal passages are immediately closed with a special septum. And the eyes are covered with a film that is transparent. Thanks to this, the beaver sees well under water. A long distance can swim under water — up to 1 km.
The beaver is distinguished by its peaceful nature, it tries to flee when there is danger. But if there is nowhere to run, he can enter into a fierce battle, and then the enemy will not do well.
When the animal sees, hears (although it has small ears, but its hearing is excellent) or senses danger, it will immediately try to dive under the water. At the same time, he tries to slap loudly with his wide tail. This is not from clumsiness, but on purpose to warn about the danger of their relatives. And only after a while, when air is needed, his head appears above the surface of the water. Important to know: The beaver is the only animal among all rodents that can move both on 4 and on its hind legs. In them, he can even carry stones for the construction of his dwelling.
Beaver — it is a very clean animal. You will never see any garbage in his house. He builds his dwelling in such a way that even in the most severe frost there will be a positive temperature. You can understand exactly where these rodents hibernate thanks to the steam that rises through the holes in the ceiling of this house. By the way, they try to warm it well. To do this, they bring clay with their front paws, and cover the branches on top. They leave their dwelling only after dusk, and work until morning. Their teeth are so sharp that an aspen trunk, up to 15 cm in diameter, can be completely gnawed by one beaver in just half an hour.
Social Structure and Reproduction
During the daytime, the beaver stays in its home. The entrance there must be hidden under water. A very interesting life of the family of these animals.
Several features can be noted here:
- a beaver can live on its own, or as a whole family;
- if we are talking about family, then matriarchy reigns here;
- when the union of the male and the female occurs, they live together until the very end;
- if one of this pair dies earlier, the second one no longer starts a new family;
- these rodents mate only under water, and this happens in January or February.
The last point says that mating usually happens under the ice. After 3.5 months, cubs appear, and there can be from 2 to 6 of them. In one family, the cubs live for two years, and only then they leave. All summer after birth, they feed on their mother’s milk. And then winter comes, and they only gain weight again, eating the bark and twigs of plants already prepared by their parents.
If the reservoir is small, only one family settles there. And if it turned out to be larger or we are talking about a river, you can already meet several families here. But between their dwellings, a distance of at least 300 m must be observed. And sometimes, if there is not enough food, it can be up to 3 km. Beavers try to move no more than 200 meters from the shore.
Natural enemies of beavers
Scientists have found that beavers communicate with each other. In this way they convey information, and first of all, we are talking about the appearance of danger.
Communication takes place as follows:
- a certain pose is chosen;
- the tail strikes the water;
- a cry is used, something more like a whistle.
When a predator or a human appears, the beaver near the water will primarily use the second option. Beavers are endangered not only by some predators, but also by competitors and diseases. Most often they get sick due to eating shellfish. This usually happens when the rodent feeds on aquatic plants. Both winter floods and spring floods are a big problem. Then up to 50% of the livestock may die.
Among the competitors, it is worth highlighting not only the hare, but also the red deer and elk. These animals also feed on both tree bark and young shoots of plants. This is especially true of those trees that the beaver felled. But in addition to competitors, he also has natural enemies. We are talking about wolves, foxes and a brown bear. And if a wolverine and a lynx live in the forest, then they attack the beaver. Stray dogs also bring a lot of trouble. But young individuals can be eaten by both pike and owl. But the biggest enemy — this is a man who has been hunting this rodent for the sake of the skin for more than a century. But recently, water pollution has also been a lot of problems for him, and man is also to blame for this.
Population and species status
Beavers can be harmful to humans. For example, the dams they build lead to flooding of agricultural land. And there were also cases when not only roads, but also railway lines were washed out. In this case, decisions were made on the destruction of buildings erected by beavers. But still, this does little, because the dams reappeared very quickly.
Hunting for beavers took place (and there are still poachers) for the following reasons:
- furs are different high quality;
- meat is edible, can be eaten;
- «beaver stream» great for making certain kinds of perfumes.
Also «beaver stream» also used in medicine. Because of this, 100 years ago, the beaver family practically disappeared from the face of the earth. But still, one should not forget that these animals have a beneficial effect on the ecology of the region where they appear. The dams they build do more good than harm. Thanks to this, water is purified, its turbidity disappears.
Protection of beavers
Due to the hunting of beavers, their numbers have significantly decreased. There is reliable information that by 1918 there were no more than 1000 individuals of this species of rodents left. It was at this time that they were listed in the & # 171; Red Book & # 187;. The Soviet government decided to take care of their salvation. Already in 1920, in those places where beavers were still preserved, reserves began to appear where it was forbidden to hunt.
When these animals multiplied strongly in the reserves, some of the individuals began to be transported to other regions of the country. By 1930 they had already appeared in 48 regions. Everything was aimed at restoring the beaver population.
With the collapse of the USSR, this process did not stop, and today in Russia they already live in 63 regions. As for the territory of Ukraine, even in Kievan Rus, laws were applied in order to preserve this species of animals. From XI, a collection of legal norms was preserved, which indicated which animals were forbidden to hunt. And beavers are mentioned among this list.
Today, the beaver population has begun to decrease again. And the reason for this lies not only in illegal hunting, but also in the fact that deforestation occurs in large numbers. True, poachers have not yet reached Polesie and the Chernobyl zone. Currently, efforts are being made around the world for the river beaver to restore its population, we hope that the efforts will bear fruit.