Editor’s note: Thinking Outside the Classroom is a monthly column written by educators from the Keystone Science School.
Summer has finally arrived and with it comes warm weather, budding flowers and the chance to witness the elusive beaver — superhero of the animal kingdom. Next time you find yourself outside enjoying summer in the mountains, look around. If you know what to look for, you may be able to spot this fascinating creature.
How to spot a beaver
First, look for ponds and pools of water along rivers. Do you see freshly cut young trees, almost looking like sharpened pencils? How about a mound of sticks and mud in the water? If you do, you are probably looking at the beaver’s home, called a lodge, and this is a great indicator that beavers are nearby.
Next, be sure to approach a possible beaver lodge slowly and downwind. While beavers have poor eyesight, they have excellent hearing and a great sense of smell. With good timing and a little luck you may be able to catch a glimpse of this superhero-like animal in action.
Beavers have numerous superhero-worthy skills and adaptations. They are especially skilled underwater. They have an extra set of eyelids that are transparent and act like goggles so they can see underwater. Plus, their ears and noses have valves that they can close before heading underwater.
They’re able to remain underwater for up to 15 minutes and use their tails as rudders to help them swim. Working underwater is made possible by their long front teeth which stick out so they can close their mouths and not swallow water as they work.
The beaver is second only to humans in their ability to change the landscape around them. While we often don’t have the opportunity to see them in action, rest assured they’re always up to something. Beavers do not hibernate. During the winter months they are working and swimming under the frozen surface of the water and living in the homes they’ve constructed. You won’t notice an entrance into the homes because those are actually found underwater. The underwater entrance keeps the beaver family safe from predators and allows them to access the home all winter. Within their lodges are two rooms, called dens. One is for drying off and the other, drier den is where they actually live.
A beaver’s tail just might be its most valuable attribute. While the tail is good for swimming, it also plays other important roles. During the winter their tails are used to store fat for energy. The beaver’s tail will become long, round and fat similar to a rat’s tail. However, in these summer months the beaver flattens its tail to the familiar paddle shape we see in cartoons. Their flattened tails also help to release body heat, as the larger surface area helps to keep the beavers from overheating. Their tails are also used as a defense mechanism; they slap their tails onto the surface of the water to warn the others of potential danger.
Whether you agree that these qualities make the beaver a superhero, one thing is for sure: The beaver is a very busy and innovative member of the animal kingdom. Try to spot one this summer and decide for yourself if the beaver really is a superhero of the animal kingdom.
Cheryl Brenner is a camp counselor at Keystone Science School. For more information on Keystone Science School, give us a call at (970) 468-2098 or visit www.KeystoneScienceSchool.org.