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Eurasian beaver is the second largest rodent in the world. Besides its chisel like teeth – the front incisors, with which the beaver is effectively chewing tree bark and wood, its other main morphological characteristic is flattened tail covered with scales. Its chubby body is covered in dense, usually brown fur. Despite its short ears, its hearing is extremely good; its sight is relatively poor, but its smell is well developed and used also for communication. It has great swimming and diving capabilities. It walks on land on all four, sometimes it also moves short distances on its hind feet, meanwhile carrying in its front paws sticks or mud for construction.

The beaver is exclusively herbivorous and is looking for food within a 20 m range of the water edge.  It is mainly feeding off tree bark, leaves and buds of various wood species (willow, poplar, alder …) as well as with herbs and aquatic plants. It can also fell trees as wide as 1 m in diameter, however it usually prefers smaller trees as the tiny twigs and leaves are easily reachable. During the periods of aquatic vegetation scarcity, it can also forage for food within the fields, meadows and orchards.

Body length without tail: 80 to 100 cm
Body mass: 23 to 35 kg
Tail: 30 to 34 cm length, up to 16 cm in width
Webbed feet for swimming are only present on hind legs.
Fur thickness: 12 000 – 23 000 hairs/cm2

Dental formula:
Upper row of teeth 1013
Bottom row of teeth 1013

Number of fingers:
Front paw has 5 fingers
Hind foot has 5 fingers (the claw on the 2nd finger is double and used for combing)

 

Scientific Classification

Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Castoridae
Genus and species: Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber)

Ilustration: Jurij Mikuletič

Ecosystem Engineer

Beaver is the largest European rodent and key species of wetland habitats. Its life is inseparably linked with freshwater. With its engineered structures involving felled trees, beaver huts and dams, it can majorly re-construct and enrich aquatic ecosystems and with them ensure favourable conditions for various number of organisms. The created habitat is also attractive for otters which like to move into the area, as it provides a rich variety of prey as well as it can claim some of the beaver own lodges for itself.

As people have forgotten how it is to live with beaver, a number of its engineering constructions can become a nuisance and can quickly be labelled as »damage«. Let us consider whether a fallen tree along a river in a natural wood can really be compared with, for example, a damage done in a car accident… But the role of the beaver in adaptation to climate change is priceless. It shows us how to retain water within the landscape and increase its self-regenerating capability.

Lost and Re-discovered Species

The history of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is an example of a thoughtless act on behalf of humans and their overexploitation of various species in our natural world. Humans have ruthlessly hunted beaver because of its fur, meat and castoreum. At the beginning of the 20th century, the once widespread beaver, was on the verge of extinction.

The rivers and its banks gave way to the needs of agriculture and industry, they became canals without the bank vegetation and less hospitable for any kind of wildlife.  With the disappearance of nature, the beaver also slowly moved out of conscience of men. It became an endangered and forgotten species.

In the last decades, we have seen the return of the beaver. The renewed beaver presence and the spread of meagre remnants of once robust populations once again brought the species along various European rivers across Europe and Asia. The populations recuperated and are again spreading across the continent without our aid. With its construction capabilities, the beaver can also re-engineer even the poorest and technologically changed aquatic environment, which it can adapt to its own ecological needs. It shows us the way to a natural renewal of aquatic ecosystems.

LIFE with the beaver, wetlands and climate change