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.