That Busy Beaver: Hard Worker, Small Brain

Beaver at work.

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Who isn’t amazed by the industrious beaver? A little animal that can chop down a big tree with his mouth, dam a river, build a house, slap that wide flat tail to warn his pals? Makes our beloved dogs seem, well, kinda dumb. Here’s seven curiosities about Castor canadensis that will rekindle your wonder for these busy totems.

  1. The beaver can manipulate the environment more than any animal besides humans.
  2. The beaver has the smallest weight-to-brain ratio among mammals.
  3. To fully digest their food, beavers pass it twice through their digestive tract. Upon completion of the first pass, they eat the gelatinous substance that comes out of their (ahem) anus. The product of the second pass resembles sawdust.
  4. Beavers dig trenches that flood with water to help float logs far from shore to their dens.
  5. Beavers amass an underwater stash of sticks and logs near their huts to ensure food for the winter (they eat the inner bark).
  6. Beavers repair their dams every night, and dams have been found that naturalists believe existed for centuries.
  7. The beaver’s musky oil is high in salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and from the early Greeks to the 1800’s was used as medicine.
  8. If a beaver cuts a tree and it catches on another tree when falling, the beaver will then cut the supporting tree to bring the desired tree down to the ground.

Clever Builder

Naturalist Doug Fuller once saw a beaver dam studded with Petoskey stones. "I was way back on a small tributary to Black Lake and came across this large beaver dam that had a bunch of really nice, big Petoskey stones lined across the top. I thought, Who is back here lining Petoskey stones on a beaver dam? Then I realized the beavers were incorporating whatever was in their environment into their dam. There were many more stones tucked in among the sticks." Fuller works for the Little Traverse Conservancy.

Beware: Beaver Fever

Experienced outdoors-folk know to purify water near beaver dams because it is often contaminated with the intestinal disease commonly called beaver fever, which is caused by the parasite Giardia intestinalis, also known as Giardia lamblia.

House Call: Go See a Beaver Dam

Sneak up quietly to these beaver dams, especially in evening, and you just might see the family at work.Cadillac: From M-55, north on 31 Road to west on Forest Road 5381. Stop where the Brandy Brook stream goes under the road. See the beaver dam from the road. Bonus: also check out the osprey nest platform.
Petoskey: Put in a canoe at Bear River Road and float down to Evergreen Road (2.5 miles, about 2 hours). Float quietly, look for trees cut by beavers. You might have to drag your canoe over a couple of dams.
Honor: In the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, launch a canoe or small boat into Bass Lake and paddle south, scanning the shore for the large beaver dam that spans the creek between Bass and Deer Lakes.

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