The temperature has been dropping this month and will continue to drop.
Despite best intentions, a period of bone-chilling weather often keeps people inside rather than encourages outdoor activity. I hope by now your car has been cleaned out, the yard decluttered and the windows washed because nothing very productive is going to happen in January. This is also true for the family-oriented beaver.
North American beavers are cuddled up in their lodges. It is no surprise that beaver kits are born in the spring after a four-month gestation period. Beavers mate for life, and January is the month for them to get cozy and breed.
And cozy they are in their well-constructed lodges. Beavers start covering their lodges with mud in late autumn. The mud freezes, making them as hard as rocks and impenetrable for predators. Dams that beavers build create a deeper pond that isolates their lodges, providing an extra layer of protection.
As humans come in from the cold stomping our feet and getting snow and mud all over the floor, we share a need with the beaver to separate our living space from our disrobing space. Similar to our “mud rooms,” beavers usually have two rooms within their lodges – one for coming out of the water and another drier one where the family lives.
Just as the family home can feel a little small during the winter (especially after all the kids were home for winter break), beavers can have a lot of relatives living in their lodges. A mating pair of beavers can have four or five kits in the spring, but beavers usually stay around until they are 2 years old, learning from their parents and helping out with their younger siblings. So, a lodge often houses around 10 beavers at a time, or two lodges can be built in the same pond.
Beavers are animals that practice alloparental care. If a parent dies, the older siblings will step in to play the parent’s role in raising the younger siblings. Elephants display this behavior as well. Being related is important to the beaver. Beavers that are genetically connected have more scent similarities in their anal gland secretion. They are more tolerant of their relatives and don’t settle too far apart once the 2-year-olds leave their parents.
Beavers can be aggressive when defending their territory from other beavers. They use a lot of scent markings in an effort to claim what is theirs, especially in the spring when the yearlings are dispersing. If a beaver detects another beaver in its territory, this takes precedence over food. Beaver encounters can be violent because of the amount of time they put into maintaining their lodges and their territory.
Next to man, no other animal has such an impact on waterways and riparian areas. A beaver can fell a 5-inch diameter tree in just 30 minutes. It only eats the bark, leaves and tender upper branches. They always are working to build or repair their dams and lodges or create food caches – hence the phrase, “busy as a beaver.” But, even for beavers, January is a time to slow down, cozy up and ensure the creation of the next generation.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.