Who Am I?

More often than not, you will see signs of my activity, rather than see me personally. I gnaw off tree trunks and branches, which serves a threefold purpose: it keeps my teeth, which grow throughout my lifetime, at the proper length; it provides me with nutrition, herbivore that I am; and last but not least, it affords me the material needed in the construction of lodges and dams for which I’m famous. I have been called nature’s engineer, you see.

I’m typically active during the night (people call me a nocturnal animal), but you might catch a glimpse of me during the day, especially close to dusk when I’m beginning the night’s labors after having rested in my comfortable, elevated sleeping quarters inside my domicile, which I reach through an underwater entrance, invisible to you. If I perceive potential danger while swimming, you might hear me slap my tail on the water, creating a nice, big, loud splash, before I dive out of sight.

That tail is a thing of beauty, if I may say so myself. It’s flat, black, and adorned with scales. Not unlike fish scales, but please don’t confuse me with a fish, as I’m a mammal—more specifically a rodent. Why some prejudices exist against my large family, I don’t know. Methinks it’s because we like to gnaw on things you don’t want us to gnaw on. That tail of mine, which has been described as a paddle, would make me a great ping-pong player, if I were a little faster on my feet. You might call me corpulent, but I need my thick, insulating adipose tissue to keep me warm in the cold water where I spend many of my waking hours.

My lipid layers are encased in a splendid fur, which was the reason you once hunted us nearly to extinction. But that sad story I will leave for another time. I spend a lot of time combing and grooming that coat of mine, and applying a waterproofing, oily substance called castoreum. Both this and our scientific name, Castor canadensis, are derived from the Latin “castor” (and from the Greek “kastor”), meaning beaver. Castor nordamericanensis might be a slightly more apropos appellation, since we occur not only in Canada, but across most of North America.

Sometimes we act in unpredictable ways—and who doesn’t? Such was the case on an unusually mild day in March, when some of you were lucky to see me in broad daylight for an extended period. Even a beaver craves a little sunshine on occasion. I had ventured away from my usual haunt to inspect a nearby pond. Not finding it suitable to erect a mansion, I nevertheless did a little foraging and, in between, hauled out on a platform in the water to soak in some warmth.

Did you notice my sleek, shimmering coat? And did you see my tail? (Have I mentioned this wondrous appendage before?) How about my agile front paws, which enable me to carry sticks underwater, to groom my handsome face, and to hold a morsel and eat it. Let’s not forget my hind paws, each of which has five toes—just like your feet. Unlike yours, mine are webbed, and aid in propelling me forward. I bet you had no idea that I can swim at a speed of 6 miles per hour once I get going. And that I can hold my breath for up to 15 minutes!

But pardon me for digressing. And for, perhaps, appearing slightly immodest.

Who am I? Allow me to introduce myself. I am the American Beaver, at your service.

Pleased to meet you.

With thanks to my fellow blogger, Steve @ Portraits of Wildflowers for reminding me of the etymology of “castor.”

Bitte verzeiht mir, daß es wegen der Länge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

66 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. Great post, Tanja. Beavers are very special animals, and a keystone species in the ecosystem. Here is the UK our own European version was wiped out by man several hundred years ago, but there are now some exciting initiatives looking to its re-introduction in selected parts of the country. It would be wonderful if, one day, I’m able to encounter a cousin of the critter that co-authored your post on a country walk somewhere close to where I live🤞.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, dear Vicki. It is extremely gratifying to know that my fame reaches all the way to Australia. It’s a country I have always wanted to visit. Alas, my swimming skills, as good as they are, won’t quite allow me to cover the distance. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice collection, especially the closeups, Tanja. Beavers are special animals and help create wetlands which is essential since we destroy so many. Many people do not like them because of the flooding that sometimes accompanies the dams. Sadly, I found a pile of dead ones someone dumped in the woods. It’s illegal and I reported it to the state but I doubt anything came of it.
    Have you ever watched one repairing a leak in its handiwork? They are so intelligent and industrious. Magnificent engineers.
    I am envious of all these great captures. I’ve never come across such an accommodating beaver. Usually they just slap at me and submerge. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve, I’m so glad you enjoyed meeting “my” beaver. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to find it in bright daylight, and to find it so relaxed. I actually wondered if something was wrong with it and called the Division of Wildlife, but they didn’t seem to think anything was amiss.
      How sad that someone killed several of them, and that you had to come across the grizzly scene. Saddening, but also maddening. I could (and do) cry at humankind’s wanton destruction of any critter that causes the least bit of inconvenience.
      I hope you will find a similarly cooperative beaver during your wanderings.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great photos.
    One wonders what the American West would be like had not that “sleek coat” ended up in so many 19th Century hats.
    I was never able to make a photo of one, but I did see some early one morning when wandering along the river in Montana’s Missouri Breaks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. When one reads reports of expeditions across North America in the 18th and early 19th centuries, one is struck by the volume and variety of wildlife encounters. I have often wished I could have experienced this continent before it was invaded and exploited.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed meeting “my” beaver, Takami. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to observe it. I even sent my husband to the location a few hours later, and it was still there, sunning and preening itself. 🙂
      Best wishes,
      Tanja

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  4. A glance at your first picture made me think you were featuring the Loch Ness monster. Good job zooming in as close as you did for some of your pictures.

    I’d reverse the time arrow in the beaver’s scientific name coming from castoreum. The ancient Romans called the beaver castor, and from that came castoreum as the name of the beaver’s secretion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed meeting “my” beaver, Anna. I’m not sure if it was a boy or a girl. I just learned that females are larger than males, but seeing one in isolation doesn’t help. Also, females might show swollen teats while they rear their kits, but I don’t think a breastfeeding mother would have ventured away from her babies. I guess we can think of it as a she or a he, based on personal preference.

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  5. Was für tolle Bilder und was für eine schöne Begegnung! Ich finde Biber zu niedlich und du hast ihn auch noch so gut zu sehen bekommen, beneidenswert. Ganz toll! Wahnsinn, was die mit ihren Zähnen zerlegen können. LG Almuth

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A charming post, Tanja! I’m quite familiar with beavers, we had them living behind our property along the stream about 25 years ago. They are quite the architect! I loved going back there to watch them and their activity, and hearing them slap their tails for danger. They are respected by many other animals who hung around them and used them to listen for danger. Many times, I saw different wildlife species take off after the tail slap! We did have one lodge built into our side of the stream’s embankment and didn’t know about it. One day my husband was cutting our grass with a med-size Kubota tractor and with the weight, fell into it. Beavers still abounded after that so we felt good we hadn’t destroyed a family. Actually at that time, Delaware’s wildlife management would come trap the beavers if there were too many in an area and relocate them to farmers to help them retain and control their water run-off. Pretty good idea and program!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Donna. I would love to live in a place, where I could watch their activities reguarly. Your experiences sound amazing. I’m glad your husband wasn’t hurt when his tractor fell into the lodge (I assume he wasn’t).
      I know they can create problems, but I like the idea of relocation rather than eradication.

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  7. I love BEAVERS! They are not common in the south so I haven’t seen any in the wild but we have had Nutria – a similar species from Latin America. Fur trappers introduced them to Louisiana so they spread all over the south.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve seen nutria as long as I’ve been in Texas, but I didn’t realize until recently that we have beavers in Texas. They’re not found on the coastal plain — reasonably enough, as there aren’t that many trees or suitable ponds and streams — but I’ve learned that they are common in the rivers and streams of east Texas — the pineywoods. They’re such interesting creatures, and your experience with them is marvelous. Photos like yours are a treasure — thanks so much for taking the time to put together such a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a charming idea to shift your POV for this introduction. A very engaging approach. Years ago, I got to know beavers quite well on my property along Montana’s Bitterroot River. I used to marvel at the diameter of the cottonwoods they brought down, especially considering how deeply they put their heads into the cut before the tree fell. No other logger would attempt something so dangerous. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tanja – Wonderful post! I have tried to photograph beavers before. They are wise and wary creatures. I was very impressed with your photos. I got to touch a beaver tail when I was a child. I remember thinking it must be very strong and that the texture felt very strange beneath my fingers. Hoping that you are keeping well. -Jill

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m always so pleased to see a beaver. People still don’t want to see them around here, which I find frustrating. At my local forest preserve there is a family of them, though, and the park director there has ordered wire be put around some key trees rather than remove the beavers. Hooray! When I worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden I also learned not to mention it if I spotted a muskrat cruising through the fingers of river that wend through the park.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Melissa. The more I learn about the human approach to dealing with nature, which is to exterminate and eradicate anything and anybody that stands in our way, the more depressed and disillusioned I get. I really don’t know how to deal with my cynicism about people.

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  12. So cool that you were able to capture these images of the beaver. They are such special creatures and often hard to come across. I know they can be disruptive in many’s eyes, but it’s only one of nature’s many creations.

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