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Discover Nature: American Beavers

A beaver has webbed hind feet, a large, relatively hairless, flattened tail, a blunt head, small eyes and ears, a short neck, and a stout body. In winter, beavers eat almost only woody vegetation, and cache food stores near underwater entrances to dens.

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an ecological engineer, and unsung steward of streams.

The American beaver is also North America’s largest rodent. 

Their webbed hind fee, with large, flattened tails, dark brown fur, and pronounced front teeth, all suit these mammals well in their streamside habitats. 

Beavers’ feeding habits vary with the seasons. During the summer, they eat corn, pond lilies, watercress, and other herbaceous plants. 

But in the winter months, their diet consists almost entirely of woody vegetation – primarily eating the bark of tender twigs and the new growth layers of trees.  

Beavers have an intricate relationship to the land and other wildlife, with profound influences on their surroundings. 

For centuries, beaver dams have backed up silt-laden waters, forming fertile riparian forest floors , stabilizing stream flow, and slowing runoff. 

Beaver dams create ponds, which change water temperatures and other conditions for fish and many kinds of aquatic life. 

In Missouri, beavers also excavate dens in high streambanks. These dens are usually accessible only through tunnel entrances below the surface of nearby water. 

While they can cause a nuisance in some settings, their value to the ecosystem is vital. If you experience problems with beavers, contact a wildlife professional for advice. 

Learn more about the American beaver with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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