By Anya Rothman, age 11
Native to North America, Asia and Europe, beavers are herbivorous mammals, meaning that they eat only plants—and in this case, trees, too! The average beaver can weigh up to 71 pounds, and some of them can be as long as three feet not including their tail, which can be an extra 14 inches long! They have large powerful teeth that are strong enough to take down fully grown trees. Their teeth are orange as they contain iron. Unlike humans, beaver teeth keep growing throughout their whole lives. But they are worn down by daily use when they chomp on trees and branches.
Unfortunately, many people view beavers as pests. Over 24,000 beavers were killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service in 2021 alone in response to complaints. Beavers topple trees to build dams, which can cause flooding in farmlands. For this reason, farmers consider them a nuisance. Beaver dams can also cause a disruption to fish migration as they can become blocked by the dam walls.
Despite this bad press, beaver dams have been found to be extremely beneficial for our planet and ecosystems. Rather than pests, many environmentalists now think of beavers as ecological powerhouses! A study published by the Ecological Society of America found that beaver dams cooled streams in northwestern Washington by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit during certain times of the year. “If you’re standing near a beaver meadow [the air is] going to be way cooler,” said Christine Hatch, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to Vox. Beaver dams have also been found to help prevent wildfires by keeping the surrounding area wet, which decreases land flammability.
Pests or not, we could stand to learn a lot from these buck-toothed rodents. As the effects of climate change continue to destroy landscapes and cities, perhaps we need to take note from our furry friends and allow them to help us rebuild. “[Beavers are] out there, and we can definitely take advantage of that,” said Emily Fairfax, an expert in ecology and hydrology at California State University Channel Islands, to Vox. Perhaps we can “work with nature—instead of constantly against it,” Fairfax explains.