Happy International Beaver Day! To celebrate, here are some facts about the beaver and a Native American story from the Ojibwe tribe about how the beaver got his tail.
There’s a lot more to a beaver than what we can see, they are known as “Nature’s Engineers” for their interesting lifestyle and they also have very interesting characteristics that make them super unique!
A beaver dam is not just a pile of sticks.
Beavers build dams for a myriad of reasons, and one is so that the lake behind it will grow deep enough to ensure it doesn’t freeze all the way through during the winter. This bit of temperature control is especially crucial because beavers anchor a food cache to the bottom of the lake to serve as sustenance during the cold months.
Beavers smell like vanilla!
Beavers secrete a goo that smells like vanilla. In fact, it’s sometimes used in vanilla flavorings. Castoreum is a chemical compound that mostly comes from a beaver’s castor sacs, which are located under the tail. It is secreted as a brown slime that's about the consistency of molasses and smells like musky vanilla. It’s an FDA-approved natural flavoring. Beavers use this vanilla smelling goo to keep themselves waterproof and also to mark their territory.
Beaver dams can be enormous!
The world’s largest beaver dam stretches 850 meters deep in the thick wilderness of northern Alberta. It was discovered after being spotted on a satellite image in 2007, but scientists believe multiple generations of beavers have been working on the dam since the 1970s. Last September, explorer Rob Mark became the first person to ever reach the dam.
Beavers have orange teeth!
To gnaw through tree trunks, they need extra-strong teeth. Fortunately, their tooth enamel contains iron, which makes them incredibly strong, sharp, and orange. Because the orange enamel on the front of their teeth wears away more slowly than the white dentin on the back, a beaver’s teeth self-sharpen as he chews on trees.
A Beaver Story!
A Native American tale about why beavers have their special tails.
Once upon a time there was a beaver that loved to brag about his tail. One day while taking a walk, the beaver stopped to talk to a bird. The beaver said to the bird, "Don't you love my fluffy tail?"
"Why, yes I do little beaver," replied the bird.
"Don't you wish your feathers were as fluffy as my tail? Don't you wish your feathers were as strong as my tail? Don't you wish your feathers were just as beautiful as my tail?" the beaver asked.
"Why do you think so much of your tail, little beaver?" asked the bird. This insulted the beaver and he walked away.
After walking for a while, he stopped for a drink by the river and saw a muskrat. He walked to the muskrat and said, "Hello little muskrat. What do you think about my tail?"
"Well, it is very beautiful and big and fluffy," answered the muskrat. "Is it also a strong tail?"
"Why, yes it is," the beaver answered. "Do you wish you had a tail like mine?"
"I didn't say I wanted a tail like yours. I just asked if it was strong," the muskrat replied with a disgusted voice.
The beaver quickly turned and began walking back to his dam. He was angry because he felt that the animals were being rude to him. He was very upset and decided to take out his frustration by cutting down trees. After cutting down a couple of trees, he came to a very large one. He knew that it would be a great challenge for him. So he went to it. But as he was cutting, he kept thinking about his tail and didn't notice that he was cutting at a bad angle. Before he knew what was happening, the tree began to fall toward him. He jumped to get out of the way, but he didn't jump fast enough, and the huge tree fell on his beautiful tail! He tugged and pulled and finally dug away the earth to free himself. When he finally pulled his tail from under the tree, he was horrified to see that it was flat. The beaver was very sad and started to cry. As he was crying he heard a voice. It was the Creator.
"Why are you crying?" asked the Creator.
"A tree has crushed my beautiful tail," the beaver cried. "Now no one will like me."
The Creator told him that a beaver is not liked for his tail but for his kindness and wisdom. He also told him how to use his flat tail. "Now your tail will help you swim rapidly," the Creator said. "And when you want to signal a message to a friend, all you have to do is slap your tail on the water."
Hearing this made the beaver happy again. When the animals saw his flattened tail they were shocked! But the beaver said, "It's better this way."
From that day on, the beaver never bragged about his tail, and all the animals liked him.
That's how the beaver got his flat tail.
Keyser, H. (2015, April 7). 11 Fascinating Facts About Beavers. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/62316/11-fascinating-facts-about-beavers.
LaBarge, R. How the Beaver Got His Tail. Retrieved from http://www.uwosh.edu/coehs/cmagproject/ethnomath/legend/legend12.htm.