North American Beaver

The North American beaver is the national animal of Canada.

Beaver in water
The pelt of the North American beaver has played such an an important role in trade that it has even functioned as a currency.

Beavers have been hunted for their pelts as well as for the secretion of their scent glands, the substance known as castoreum which was valuable for its real and imaginary healing powers. Castoreum does contain accumulated salicylic acid that comes from eating lots of willow bark and does indeed have some analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Till this day it is used as a food additive as natural flavoring.

The beaver is a large aquatic rodent. The beaver is the second largest rodent in the world second only to the capybara. Beavers are well adapted to live in the water, they have a paddle-like tail for propulsion and they also have webbed feet.

North American Beaver.

North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) in the Toronto Zoo.

Beavers are vegetarian and among other plants they eat a lot of tree bark. They also chew through whole trees in order to get building material for their dam building activities.

Beavers live in ponds of their own making by means of building dams that block of the water flow on a river thus creating a pond. Beavers transform their environment to their liking more than any other creature except for us humans. Beaver dams and the resulting artificial ponds change the habitat for many other species.


The dam building behavior was taken as a sign of the beaver’s intelligence, but the beavers seem to be operating on instinct alone. As such the beaver dam can be considered as part of the beaver genes’ extended phenotype.

Beaver dams are considered to be natural in the beaver’s native land. In other places where beavers have been introduced they are considered to be an invasive species or even a pest because they can quickly kill a lot of trees and create ponds where previously there wasn’t one, thus significantly altering the natural environment.

Further Readings:

Beaver on Wikipedia.
North American beaver on Wikipedia.
American beaver (Castor canadensis) on ARKIVE.
Beaver – Castor canadensis.
Beaver-Based Alternative to Vanilla.
Hudson’s Bay Company Products: Standards of Trade.
Made Beaver on Wikipedia.

The Extended Phenotype on Wikipedia.
See also the actual book entitled The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins.

Last updated: February 23, 2015

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