COMMON NAME: North American Beaver

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Castor canadensis

SPECIES CHARACTERISTICS

The beaver is North America's largest rodent and is most often identified by its large visible front teeth and flattened, scaly tail. The fur, for which it was so valued, is a reddish brown colouring and is made up of an underfur layer with longer guard hairs. This dense fur coat allows the beaver to stay warm in cold winter months and also remain dry while swimming in the water. They have a noticeable waddle when walking on land but when they are in the water they are quick swimmers aided by their webbed hind feet.

The beaver is a herbivore, preferring to eat bark, roots, and aquatic plants. Due to the continual growth of their front incisors beavers have to continually know on trees to keep their teeth filed to a comfortable length and in doing so keep their teeth sharp.

HABITAT & RANGE

The beaver can be found across Canada and the United States with the exception of Florida, southern California, and southern Nevada. They live in places with fresh water, creating their dome-shaped homes in large ponds, either natural or created by the beaver for that very reason. The beavers industrious temperament gives them the ability to fell trees and gather logs to create large and very strong dams in order to create the still water they desire for their homes.

THE BEAVER’S SYMBOLOGY AND HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE

The beaver has become a quintessential symbol of Canada at home and abroad. The already well-established European fur trade had seen the populations of beaver in Europe and Russia almost wiped out by the 17th century, which coincided with the establishment of colonies in North America by the British, French, and Dutch. As the European hunt slowed, the drive for North American furs grew creating a boom in colonial expansion across the continent. The fur traders, aided by North America’s original inhabitants, crisscrossed the continent along the rivers and lakes in search of more and more furs to feed the European hunger for the luxurious product. There were three main products derived from the beaver: the pelt (the fur and skin), leather or suede, and felt (the fur removed from the skin and heated to created a pliable fabric). The search for these products was controlled by two main companies: the North West Company, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was such a lucrative trade that these companies conducted small armed-conflicts between each other to gain control of better grounds. It was such a lucrative industry because a felted hat made from beaver was worth more than the average yearly salary for a man and in today's money is said to have been worth over $100,000.

With their exploitation came a sharp decrease in population numbers and so the north american beaver’s conservation began in the 1930’s when its populations had almost been decimated in many regions across its traditional range. Its popularity meant its almost assured demise. The beaver, however, had been such a longstanding cultural symbol of Canada that its conservation was established and now populations have raised significantly across most of its range. Its importance was the reason the Hudson's Bay Company chose it to be represented on its coat of arms and still further it was made an official emblem of Canada by parliament in 1975. As an emblem of Canada the beaver references the historical importance of the fur trade but it also exemplifies the characteristics the Canadian government wanted to portray. The beaver is second only to humans for its ability to create such a visible impact on the landscape in which it lives and for better or worse the Canadian people themselves have adopted this industrious characteristic.

SOURCES

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/

http://cwh.ucsc.edu/feinstein/A%20brief%20history%20of%20the%20beaver%20trade.html

http://imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/bio/mammal/rod/beaver/beaver.htm

http://nature.ca/notebooks/english/beaver.htm


Bryce Watts

Bryce has a background in ethnobotany and cultural anthropology. He is the Co-founder and President of Forager Foundation and has interests in Traditional Knowledge and cultural preservation.

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