Welcome to the majestic landscapes of Canada, home to a diversity of wildlife as grand as the country itself. From the soaring Rocky Mountains to the sprawling tundra of the Yukon, Canada hosts an array of remarkable creatures.
However, one animal, humble in size yet monumental in impact, stands as the national emblem – the industrious Beaver (Castor canadensis). Known for their exceptional dam-building skills, beavers play a critical role in shaping the Canadian wilderness.
Stick around to learn more about these fascinating creatures and discover how they got to be the symbol of Canada.
Quick Info About The Beaver
|Scientific Name:||Castor canadensis|
|Average Size:||80 cm – 1 m (2.6 – 3.3 ft) length|
|Average Weight:||16 – 32 kg (35 – 70 lbs)|
|Average Lifespan:||10 – 20 years|
|Geographical Range:||Across North America, except for the Arctic tundra and the southernmost parts of the United States|
|Habitat:||Lakes, ponds, rivers and streams with trees or vegetation nearby|
|Conservation Status:||Least Concern (IUCN Red List)|
Meet the Beaver, National Animal of Canada
The Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis) is an iconic animal that carries a robust and sturdy look. These semi-aquatic creatures are usually dark brown in color, though their shades may vary. They are sexually monomorphic, meaning males and females generally look similar.
One of their most notable features is their large, flat, and paddle-like tail, which is covered in scales and measures up to 14 inches (35.5 cm) in length. It helps in navigating water bodies, maintaining balance, and storing fat for winter.
Beavers also have prominent, sharp, and orange-tinted incisors that never stop growing and are perfect for gnawing at the bark of trees, their primary food source.
They also eat aquatic plants, shrubs, and sedges. This diet makes them herbivores, but they’re no ordinary plant-eaters. Their tree-felling and dam-building activities dramatically alter their surroundings, earning them the title of “ecosystem engineers”.
In the ecosystem, beavers play a pivotal role by creating wetland habitats that support a wide array of species, including frogs, ducks, and otters.
Predators such as wolves, bears, and humans pose a threat to them. However, their aquatic lifestyle and lodges (homes built of sticks and mud with underwater entrances) provide a good defense.
Where Does The Beaver Live?
Beavers are highly adaptable and inhabit various types of water bodies, including rivers, ponds, and lakes. Their lodges are constructed in the water, serving as a shelter for them and their young ones, known as kits.
In Canada, they span from coast to coast, inhabiting all provinces and territories. They are most commonly found in areas with less human disturbance, including boreal and aspen parkland regions. Beavers are also found across the Northern United States, parts of the Southern United States where water sources are reliable, and into Northern Mexico.
Their original geographic range has been largely restored through reintroduction efforts after their numbers dwindled due to the fur trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Being cold-adapted, beavers can cope with the chilly Canadian winters. They stay active under the ice throughout the winter, having stored sufficient food in their lodges to last the season. Their adaptation to their environment is truly remarkable, highlighting the resilience that makes them a fitting symbol for the Great White North.
Why and When Did The Beaver Become The National Animal of Canada?
The beaver’s industrious nature, resilience, and significant role in Canada’s history led to its adoption as the national symbol. It was officially recognized as Canada’s national animal in 1975, but its significance dates back to the fur trade era in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The beaver pelt was highly sought after in Europe for its water-resistant properties, leading to intense trading activities. The pursuit of beaver pelts played a key role in the exploration and eventual colonization of North America. It was the driving force behind the exploration of Canada, shaping the country’s historical and economic landscape. Thus, the beaver symbolizes Canada’s historical growth and the industrious spirit of its people.
While there haven’t been any notable controversies regarding the beaver as a national symbol, there have been debates over its impact on the environment. The beaver’s dam-building activities, while crucial for creating wetland habitats, can sometimes flood roads, farmlands, and other human structures, leading to conflicts.
Where is The Beaver Featured in Canada?
The beaver is featured prominently in various Canadian symbols and insignia, reinforcing its status as a national symbol. It appears on the reverse side of the Canadian nickel (five-cent coin) in a design that has been largely unchanged since 1937.
The beaver is also part of the Canadian Pacific Railway company’s logo, symbolizing the integral part it played in the exploration and development of Canada’s vast landscapes.
Historically, the Hudson’s Bay Company, which dominated the fur trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, incorporated the beaver in its coat of arms. Today, the beaver is present in the coats of arms of multiple Canadian provinces and territories, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, underscoring its enduring significance in Canadian culture and history.
Even the name of Canada’s capital, Ottawa, derives from the Algonquin word ‘adawe’, meaning ‘to trade’ — a nod to the significant role the beaver trade played in the region’s history.
Names of The Beaver
The beaver is generally referred to as simply “beaver” in English-speaking countries. Its scientific name is Castor canadensis, which differentiates it from its Eurasian cousin, Castor fiber. The beaver’s name comes from the Old English word ‘beofor’, which in turn traces its origins back to Proto-Indo-European, suggesting that this animal has held a significant place in human consciousness for thousands of years.
In Canada, the country’s two official languages, English and French, both use the terms “beaver” and “castor” respectively. In various Indigenous languages, the beaver has unique names. For example, in the Cree language, a beaver is known as ‘Amisk’, and in the Ojibwe language, it’s called ‘Amik’.
Is The Beaver Endangered?
As of the latest assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the beaver is not endangered and is listed as of “Least Concern”. This is thanks to successful reintroduction and management programs following a population collapse due to over-trapping in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, beavers face different threats, mainly habitat loss due to urbanization and conflicts with human activities. As their dam-building can cause flooding, they are often regarded as pests, which can lead to lethal control measures.
Conservation efforts are ongoing to manage beaver populations sustainably and mitigate conflicts between beavers and humans. Innovative strategies include the use of ‘beaver deceivers’—devices designed to control the water level of beaver ponds, preventing flooding without harming the beavers.
Public education programs are also essential, helping communities coexist with these industrious creatures and understand their important role in maintaining wetland ecosystems.
Interesting Facts About The Beaver
- Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to manipulate and change their environment. Their dams can be up to 10 feet high and as long as a football field.
- The beaver’s front teeth never stop growing. The constant gnawing on wood helps to keep their teeth from growing too long.
- A beaver’s tail serves multiple purposes. It is used as a rudder when swimming, a prop when sitting or standing upright, and a storehouse for fat in the winter. When startled or threatened, a beaver will slap its tail on the water as a warning signal to other beavers in the area.
- Beavers are excellent swimmers and can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes.
- The beaver was nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century because of the high demand for its fur. Conservation efforts and changes in fashion trends have allowed beaver populations to recover.
Other Beautiful Animals Native To Canada
- Moose (Alces alces): One of the most iconic Canadian animals, the Moose is the largest species in the deer family. They are well-adapted to Canadian winters with their thick, insulating fur.
- Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis): This medium-sized wildcat is recognized by its tufted ears and large paws, which act like snowshoes in the winter. The Canada Lynx’s main food source is the snowshoe hare.
- Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus): Native to the Arctic regions of Canada, these majestic bears have become a symbol of the impact of climate change on wildlife.
- Common Loon (Gavia immer): Known for its eerie, beautiful calls, the Common Loon is a significant bird in Canada, appearing on the Canadian dollar coin, known colloquially as the “loonie.”
- Canadian Goose (Branta canadensis): Found all over Canada, these geese are well-known for their V-shaped flight pattern and their honking sound.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the beaver the national animal of Canada?
The beaver is the national animal of Canada due to the historical significance of the beaver fur trade in the early development and exploration of the country.
Are beavers dangerous?
Generally, beavers are not dangerous and tend to avoid humans. However, like any wild animal, they can defend themselves if they feel threatened.
Do beavers really slap their tails on the water?
Yes, beavers slap their tails on the water as a warning signal to other beavers when they sense danger.
What other symbols are important in Canada?
Apart from the beaver, the maple leaf is another important symbol in Canada, featuring prominently on the country’s flag. Hockey is the national winter sport, and lacrosse is the national summer sport.
How long does a beaver live?
On average, a beaver lives up to 20 years in the wild, and they can live longer in captivity.
Other Articles To Learn More About Beavers
- Beaver – Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]
- What Do Beavers Eat? Do Beavers Eat Meat?
- Are Beavers Friendly? Can Beavers Be Kept As Pets?
- What Eats Beavers? 10 Predators of Beavers
- Are Beavers Dangerous? Do Beavers Attack Humans?
- Beavers: 30 Cool Facts, Info & Pictures