Beavers are known as ecosystem engineers. Ecosystem engineers are animals that create, change, and maintain a habitat. These animals strongly affect the other animals living there.

Beavers’ Butterfly Effect

You might have heard the term “butterfly effect.” This is used to describe a situation where one small change can have large impacts elsewhere. It’s most common example is a butterfly beating its wings which leads to increasing bigger changes until those changes spark something major, like a tornado.

Beavers make small changes that can really impact their ecosystems. They create dams by removing living trees and using them as a part of the structure. Once they create their dam, a pond often forms which brings an abundant amount of new biodiversity (variety of life). Some birds are unaffected by the destruction of trees while other decline or increase in number. Because the dams create ponds, there is a wading area for birds to thrive in as well as a place to lay their eggs if a dam happened to be abandoned. Reptiles benefit as the beavers create a basking area for them on logs. They also benefit from the loss of trees because the forest then grows new early vegetation and the dam creates a slow moving water which some animals prefer. Invertebrates that prefer slow-moving water start to increase in number

Beavers have a good sense of hearing, smell, and touch. Beavers actually have pretty bad eyesight, but their eyes have a set of transparent eyelids which allows them to see underwater (and closeable nostrils, too!). Divide the kids into two teams and blindfold one person from each team. Have two objects that represent food somewhere away from the people in blindfolds. Their team has to help direct them to the “food” as they have excellent hearing, but bad eyesight. They have to work together to help their friend find the food.

Once you get that mastered, add in a few obstacles. Beavers use their broad, scaly tail, to forcefully slap the water as an alarm signal to other beavers in the area that a predator is approaching. If a beaver gets too close to an obstacle or another beaver, the kids can clap their hands to warn them.

Beavers eat the bark, buds, stems, and twigs of trees: aspen, maple, willow, birch, black alder, and black cherry trees. They really like soft plant foods, too. Grasses, mushrooms, leaves, ferns and the roots of water plants are some favorite snacks.

Create a yummy dam out of pretzels for a snack: Use peanut butter spread, marshmallow, or chocolate spread depending on preference. Add stick pretzels to the spread of your choice. Once it is all mixed, give each kid a scoop and have them shape it into their own dam.

Beaver colonies create dams of wood and mud to provide still, deep water in order to protect against predators such as wolves, coyotes, bears or eagles, and also so they can float food and building material to their homes.

Use your imagination to create your own beaver dam with building blocks, sticks, or even straws! Did you know that a beaver can chew through a 6 inch thick tree in just 20 minutes?

Once the dams are completed and ponds formed, beavers will work on building their homes called lodges in the middle. The dome shaped lodges, like the dams, are constructed with branches and mud. They that can be up to 8 feet wide and up to 3 feet high inside. To enter the lodge, you have to go underwater, making entry tough for most other animals. Some even have a backdoor exit for quick escape!

There are usually two dens within the lodge — one is for drying off after entering from the water and another, drier one, is where the family of up to four adults and six to eight young live.

If you lived in a beaver lodge, how would you design it? Sketch out your entrances, rooms and their purposes.

Beaver facts

Beavers are the second largest rodent in the world after the capybara.

The beaver is mainly a nocturnal animal.

The large front teeth of the beaver never stop growing. The beavers constant gnawing on wood helps to keep their teeth from growing too long.

Beavers are slow on land but using their webbed feet, they are very good swimmers. A beaver can stay under water for up to 15 minutes.

There were once more than 60 million North American beaver. But due to hunting for its fur, its glands for medicine and because the beavers tree-felling and dams affect other land uses, the population has declined to around 12 million.

Adult beavers are around 3 feet long and have been known to weigh over 55 pounds.

Beavers can live up to 24 years in the wild.

The beaver is the national animal of Canada, and features on the Canadian five-cent piece.

Beavers like to keep themselves busy. They are prolific builders during the night. Hence the saying “As busy as a beaver.”


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