The way of the beaver
Strategies for survival of the world's second-biggest rodent
Beavers have some things to teach us about strategy.
No really. When a big slow rodent survives a nasty world, we should take note.
Those from the US and Canada are passingly aware of the fact that beavers were, a couple centuries ago, hunted to near extinction. Estimates are there were about 100 million beavers in North America before the Europeans came, and Ben Goldfarb’s excellent book, Eager, recounts that number dropped to about one hundred thousand at the turn of the twentieth century.
But they came back, more than a hundredfold—today there are approximately 15 million beavers in North America. Goldfarb calls them “one of our most triumphant wildlife success stories.”
What fascinated me in reading about castor canadensis (the North American beaver) is the why and the how.
Why = survival.
How requires a bit more description.
Here’s Goldfarb riffing on buildings the beavers have built:
“The primary reasons are the same ones that first drove humans to build domiciles of their own: safety from predators, shelter from the elements, and food storage. On land, beavers—North America’s biggest rodent, and the world’s second largest, after South American capybaras—are ungainly and vulnerable, and their pear-shaped bodies make delectable meals for black bears, cougars, coyotes, and wolves. Yet beavers are as balletic in water as they are clumsy out of it. They can hold their breath for up to fifteen minutes, and their underwater gymnastics are powered by webbed hind feet. Transparent eyelids allow them to see below the surface, while a second set of fur-lined lips close behind their teeth, permitting them to chew and drag wood without drowning. Building dams expands the extent of the beavers’ watery domains, submerges lodge entrances to repel predators, and gives them a place to stash their food caches.”
There’s three things, at least three things, worth drawing out of this wonderful paragraph.