Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
skiers by beaver-chewed tree

Pop Quiz: Do Beavers Hibernate? In today’s post, discovery specialist Dave Sproule answers common questions about beavers.

If you’re near water, especially in our northern parks, you may see signs of one of the most important animals in the Ontario landscape, one that shapes the landscape to its own needs.

Two beavers sitting on the ice.

But in the dead of winter, with much of Ontario frozen and white, what are these aquatic creatures doing?

Here are answers to some common questions on the topic of beavers:

1. Do beavers travel south?

Beavers do not migrate. They stay in your home pond, stream or lake, swimming under the ice.

beaver in the snow

2. Do beavers hibernate?

Beaver chewing in winter_birchWinter beaver chew

Beavers are active during the colder seasons – they don’t have a long winter nap!

In summer, we often see signs of beaver, such as gnawed trees or sticks without bark floating in the water, known as “beaver chewing.” More obvious evidence is beaver dam, which is found along streams and at the edges of ponds, wetlands and lakes.

In winter, signs become harder to detect due to snow and frozen lakes and ponds, but beavers still need to chew.

3. Isn’t the water too cold?

No, beavers are well adapted to their environment, including a Trench-coat. A layer of coarse hairs protects the surface, while underneath, a thick layer of fine hairs has small hooks that interlock tightly to prevent water from entering.

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This coat becomes much thicker in winter and colder climates. The further north a beaver lives, the thicker its fur.

beaver

Beavers can also secrete an oily substance that they comb into their fur with their front paws. This helps keep water out and is similar to rubbing waterproofing on your leather jacket. Beavers groom themselves and others frequently to keep their fur clean and dry.

**Additional information** Beavers have other cool adaptations for living in water part-time, including webbed feet for swimming, nostrils that close when underwater, and a transparent third eyelid to protect their eyes. Their tails help regulate heat and store fat for difficult times, like winter.

4. Where do they live?

Beavers live in a introduce, a structure made of mud, sticks and logs, with an underwater entrance. Lodges are usually built in the middle of shallow ponds, but can be found along river and lake banks where the water is too deep to be far from shore.

beaver shelter and wolf tracksBeavers move slowly out of water (and can be a tasty meal for a wolf or bear!), so putting a “moat” around their “castle” is a good idea…

They choose a good location, usually not too close to the shore, so that wolves cannot dig on top of the shelter. In winter, mud, sticks, and logs freeze together, making it difficult for predators to dig.

The water should be deep enough to support the shelter, but shallow enough for the wood pile to break the surface of the water.

Once the wood is stacked, the beavers chew an entrance from the water to the dry part of the wood pile, creating a chamber that remains dry and warm during the winter.

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Steam seen escaping from the top of a beaver lodge in winter? The hostel is sure to be busy!

5. What do beavers eat when nothing grows in winter?

they eat the shoots and twigs of your favorite trees and shrubs (willow, alder, poplar and birch), but only the outer layers of bark, not the inner wood.

Beavers have long been known for their “hard work” ethic (to put it in human terms). During spring, summer, and fall, they diligently build and maintain dams, and cut down trees for later use as food.

twigs in iceA stock of beaver twigs or “pantry,” frozen in ice.

In the warm season, beavers cut branches from coastal bushes and cut down trees. Beavers, being slow on land, like to cut down trees so that their leaf tops fall into the water, so that the beaver is safe from predators such as wolves.

The higher water levels caused by dams also allow beavers to store their food underwater, making it last longer and keeping it safe under the ice.

6. Why are beavers important to the ecology of forests and waterways?

Beavers can change the landscape by building dams, being one of the few animals capable of altering their own environment.

By changing waterways, flooding forests, and creating wetlands, beavers create diverse habitats that benefit many plants and animals. For example, increasing the water’s edge provides habitat for a variety of birds, plants and insects.

Beaver Lodge on Wetland

In winter, a beaver pond can harbor frogs and turtles on its muddy bottom, as well as dragonfly larvae and brook trout. Beaver lodges have even been known to become homes for muskrats, who live in their own private “apartment” (but, of course, rent-free!).

So the next time you pass by a wetland or frozen pond, keep your eyes peeled for gnawed trees or rising steam, and give your touch to one of Ontario’s coolest creatures!