One of my fondest memories from childhood is the Sunday afternoon walks my sister and I would take with my grandfather. We’d roam the woods surrounding our home in North Carolina, and explore what to our young eyes (and short legs) seemed every bit as large as anything Lewis & Clark encountered.
A recent walk around the farm rekindled that sense of curiosity and wonder. Just over Clover Hill we found an interesting construction project in progress.
Beavers are very industrious creatures. In fact they are often referred to as nature’s architects and are second only to humans in their capacity to manipulate the environment.
By building and maintaining dams, beavers can completely change the vegetation, animal life, and other components of the watersheds in which they live, so we’ll have to keep an eye on their plans and make sure they file all the appropriate documentation and environmental impact studies. (We’ll have to hunt for the dam. It must be somewhere nearby)
Beaver families often work together when building and felling large trees, and a group can clear as many as 200 small trees in one night’s work.
A beaver uses its strong front teeth to cut down trees and to peel off the bark and the branches. To cut a tree, the beaver stands on its hind legs and uses its tail as a prop. It places its front paws on the tree trunk, and turns its head sideways. Then the beaver bites the trunk to make a cut in it. The animal makes another cut farther down on the trunk. The distance between the two cuts depends upon the size of the tree.
The cuts are farther apart on large trees than on small ones. The beaver takes several bites at the cuts to make them deeper. Then the animal pulls off the piece of wood between the cuts with its teeth. It keeps cutting and tearing out pieces of wood until the tree falls. Beavers usually cut the wood away around a tree trunk, but they may cut through the trunk from only one side.
In the 1700s beaver hats became the rage in Europe. Hats weren’t made from the skin of a beaver but rather from the undercoat of the fur coat. It was found that the undercoat contains microscopic barbs and can easily be pounded into felt, which was used to make the hat.