Consider the beaver: Leila Phillips was crushed by the 3-foot-tall, calf-sized rodent after spotting it in her backyard pond in Woodstock, Connecticut. A six-year search ensued, interviewing trappers, furriers and beaver researchers, all of whom are equally smitten with the creatures. The result is “Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America,” (Twelve) out now.
“Beavers helped make this country,” a beaver-obsessed trapper told her. This is not an exaggeration. There is a reason why so many schools have beavers as mascots and why they have long been symbols of wealth, industry and luck.
“I think there is an element of the sacred in it [them]even in its deep strangeness,” writes Phillip, an English professor at the College of the Holy Cross.
First, beavers are a jumble of different animals: “Part bear, part bird, part monkey, part lizard,” they may appear human, with hands that have “five nimble fingers and bare palms,” with “hind legs like a goose.” ” They swim “like alligators,” he writes, with their noses, eyes and ears aligned. They communicate with other beavers by shedding castor oil from their internal anal glands. (That this oil is still used to provide everything from the vanilla flavor in some ice creams to the strawberry flavor in Twizzlers and the musky notes of Chanel No. 5 may be a fact some would rather forget.)
Even their “reptile tails” that look like “some terrible accident, hit by a tractor tire” contain multitudes. It’s part “oar, prop, rudder, water sensor, power source and air conditioning system,” Phillip writes. The surface cells of the tail even communicate with changes in water pressure, so they can sense the flow of water and rush to a dam in danger. This same sensitive tail contains fat storage that tides beavers through the lean winter months, and in the summer the tightly woven blood vessels keep the creature from overheating.
They help reduce wildfire threats and expand biodiversity, and in an unexpected bonus, harass New Yorkers who fled the city to move upstate during the pandemic and the rage Recreational snowmobilers in New Hampshire.
If you had to match their intelligence type to another animal, it would be termites or ant colonies. Beavers work with a hive mentality rarely seen in mammals. A group of beavers can roll a hundred pounds of boulder into their dam. Together, a group of beavers can create infrastructure that rivals humans. The longest beaver dam ever recorded is half a mile long — twice the length of Hoover Dam.
Beavers are ancient creatures. A million years ago, beavers the size of bears roamed the world. North America was truly once the home of the beaver with over 400 million living in rivers across the continent. The “great drying,” as American geologists called what happened to many of our rivers and lakes across the country, occurred between 1600 and 1900 – during the heyday of the beaver fur trade. There are now about six million beavers here, although efforts are being made to reintroduce the rodents to areas where rivers are drying up or wildfires are raging.
Although many more they regard beavers as vermin (and in some places, treated as such), Philip describes them as “ecosystem engineers” who create wetlands by damming water, cutting down trees, moving rocks and digging burrows. While they may kill trees, they create habitats that are richer in soil moisture with increased light, which work to create “fifteen times more plankton and other microbial life than wetlands without beavers. Zooplankton in particular love the nutrients provided by beaver cocoa.” A 2021 study showed that beaver areas had a greater variety of wildlife, even birds.
Beavers are also natural”firefighters.” Not only are their wetlands less prone to fires, but they also provide more water to filter out debris, ash, and other pollutants, which helps save fish and other aquatic animals from polluted waters.
And if that wasn’t enough, they also happen to be adorable.
two years ago, a video of a beaver chewing away in the cabbage made the rounds of the internet with more than 4 million views.
“This makes everything better,” one person commented. We couldn’t agree more.