Beaver fur is a soft luxurious coat that keeps the animal comfortable in all temperatures, on land or underwater. [112] It was these qualities that historically kept them in constant demand for the making of coats, top hats, robes, and clothing trim in Europe and the eastern US. [113] Their fur has two layers. The outer layer consists of coarse, long, glossy guard hairs which vary in color from yellowish brown to reddish-brown to black. Their underfur consists of dense, short, fine hairs that are grayish to brown. The inner layer of fine hair, together with a substance called castoreum, provide the waterproof barrier which keeps the beaver's skin dry underwater. [114]  [115] Castoreum is a strong smelling oily substance that is actually an attractant to many other animals. It is secreted by castor glands near the base of the tail. The beaver will comb its fur with its front feet, and two split nails on its hind feet to spread the oil over its whole body. [116]  [117] Beavers also have a thick layer of fat beneath their skin, which provides insulation from freezing water during winter. [118] During the winter beavers are less active, and primarily maintain body temperature by staying in their well-insulated lodge. [119]

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The predators beavers face will vary from region to region, but include wolves, lynxs, bears, coyotes, common red foxs, bobcats, owls, otters, minks, alligators, wolverines, weasels, hawks, eagles, dogs, humans, and most other large mammalian carnivores. [120]  [121]  [122]  [123]  [124]  [125] [126] An adult beaver is a good fighter and can usually escape into the water. [127] This allows them to fight off or avoid most of their predators. [128] Kits are far more vulnerable than adults and need the protection of older beavers. [129] For all beavers, water is their best defense and refuge from predators, since they cannot move very fast on land. [130]  [131] When on land beavers are constantly on the alert, frequently stopping to sniff the air and look around for danger. [132] At the first sign of a predator, they will retreat to the water and try to warn the other beavers in the area by slapping the water with their tail. This produces a startlingly loud noise. [133] Predators, however, are not the only dangers for the beaver. Accidents such as falling into abandoned wells, and traffic collisions represent another common cause of mortality. [134]

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Beavers are a docile, gentle animal with a strong aversion to biting. [135] In fact, in some Native American dialects the word for "beaver like" also means "affable." This is not to say that a beaver will never bite. It is best to avoid a hissing or blowing beaver as these are signs that it feels frightened or cornered. [136] Some behavior is instinctive to beavers, such as patching a dam at the sound of running water, but they also learn from experience and by imitating others. [137] At the age of two years old, beavers will migrate to find their own territory. This is the most dangerous time of life an adult beaver will ever face. The journey may be over 10 miles, and is sometimes overland, where the beaver is most vulnerable. [138] Beavers are mostly nocturnal, sleeping by day, and foraging for food and doing construction work at night. [139] While they can occasionally be seen during the day, the best time is an hour before dark or early in the morning at sunup. [140] Beavers communicate primarily with posture and scent marking. For scent marking, beavers erect dome shaped mounds, like a small lodge, sometimes measuring as much as a foot (.3 m) tall and 3 ft. (.9 m) across. They will then rub castoreum on the mound to mark their territory. [141] Vocalizations are also used especially by the young, who among other things, can make a sound similar to a duck quacking. Adult beavers may sometimes grunt as they work, but are generally silent. [142] As was noted earlier, tail slapping is used to warn of predators, but can communicate other emotions as well. [143]

Written by Samuel Fall
Copyright © 2007 Beaver Pictures & Facts

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Image Source for beaver lodge at top of page: M. LeFever, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Image Source for two beaver at bottom of page: Tom Smylie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.