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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Beaver - Castor canadensis

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3


 

External Links





 
General Description
The largest rodent in North America north of Panama. On land is a large, clumsy, hump-backed animal. In the water, becomes sleek and torpedo-shaped. Propels itself with powerful webbed hind feet. Beavers use their large dorsally flattened, scale-covered tail to maneuver in water. Slapping the tail on water surface is used as a signal of alarm. Split nail on the second hind toe is used for grooming. Incisors are large and continually growing. Fur is rich brown with black to reddish guard hairs. Under-fur is soft and extremely dense with excellent insulating qualities. Both sexes have a pair of anal glands and castor sacs located ventrally. Beavers emit anal gland secretions year round. Total length: 34 to 40 inches. Weight: 30 to 60 pounds. Builds stick and mud dams across streams. Mostly nocturnal. May build large conical houses at the edge of a lake or burrow into the bank for a den along rivers. Beaver life is based on a family unit consisting of a pair of adults, yearlings, and kits. The information in next section is from Miller (1983), Hill (1982), and Novak (1987a), unless otherwise indicated. The beaver is the largest North American rodent; most adults weigh 16 to 23 kg (35 to 50 pounds), rarely 32 to 38 kg (70 to 85 pounds) or more. Kits weigh about 0.5 kg or a little less (1 pound) at birth (Hill 1982), when they are about 38 cm (15 inches) long (Schwartz and Schwartz 1981). The relationship between beaver age and mass is roughly as follows: less than 0.5 years old, less than 5 kg (11 pounds); 0.5 to 1.5 years old, 6 to 11 kg (13 to 24 pounds); 1.5 to 2.5 years old, 10 to 13 kg (22 to 29 pounds); greater than 2.5 years old, greater than 14 kg (31 pounds). The preceding weight-age data are often accurate, but it must be realized that weight is influenced by various factors other than age. The total length of a beaver varies with age as follows: yearlings are 26 to 34 inches; adults of 2 to 3 years, 35 to 40 inches; older adults, 47+ inches (maximum about 4.5 feet) in the warmer months and generally ends at age 4 to 5 years. Pelage color varies geographically from yellowish-brown to black (this range of color may be found in a single watershed). There is one annual molt. The pelt is prime from late fall to early spring. The sexes are difficult to distinguish externally. Hodgen (1978) provided information on sexing beavers by their behavior in a live trap. See Novak (1987a) for additional references on sexing methods.

Diagnostic Characteristics
River Otter - tail covered with fur. Muskrat - smaller, tail slender. An inexperienced observer could mistake a Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), Round-tailed Muskrat (Neofiber alleni) or a Nutria (Myocastor coypus) for a Beaver, but these other rodents do not have a broad flattened tail.

General Distribution
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 1273

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Habitat
Occupies a wide variety of habitats in North America. Water and associated woody vegetation are the most essential components of beaver habitat. Ideal beaver living sites include ponds, small lakes, meandering streams, and rivers.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Beavers are strict herbivores. Beavers eat a variety of woody and herbaceous species. Willows, mountain alder, and aspen are important foods. Will also consume herbaceous vegetation during summer. Much of the woody vegetation beavers cut is not used for food. Caches woody vegetation near shore for winter food.

Reproductive Characteristics
Breeds from January through March. Two to four young are born after a 105- to 107-day gestation period. One litter per year is produced. Two-year-olds are eventually driven from or leave the parental home.

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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    • Adams, A.K. 1953. Some psycho-chemical effects of beaver dams upon Michigan trout streams in the Watersmeet area. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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    • Aldous, S.E. 1938. Beaver food utilization studies. Journal of Wildlife Management 2: 215-222.
    • Aleksiuk, M. 1968. Scent-mound communication, territoriality, and population regulation in beaver (Castor canadensis Kuhl). Journal of Mammalogy 49(4): 759-762.
    • Aleksiuk, M. 1970. The seasonal food regime of arctic beavers. Ecology 51: 264-270.
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    • Aleksiuk, M. and I.M. Cowan. 1969. The winter metabolic depression in arctic beavers (Castor canadensis Kuhl) with comparisons to California beavers. Canadian Journal of Zoology 47(5): 965-979.
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    • Wetlands West, Inc., Bozeman, MT., and Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Wyola-Sunlight Ranch Wetland, Wyola, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.035. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
    • Wheatley, M. 1997. Beaver, Castor canadensis, Home Range Size and Patterns of Use in the Taiga of Southeastern Manitoba: II. Sex, Age, and Family Status. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 111: 211-216.
    • White, D.S. 1990. Biological relationships to convective flow patterns within stream beds. Hydrobiologia 196: 149-158.
    • White, P.S. and S.T.A. Pickett. 1985. Natural disturbance and patch dynamics: an introduction. In: Pickett, S.T.A. and P.S. White; editors, The ecology of natural disturbance and patch dynamics. Academic Press, pp. 3-13.
    • Wigley, T.B. and M.E. Garner. 1987. Impact of beavers in the Arkansas Ozarks. Report Series 298. Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. 12pp.
    • Wigley, T.B., T.H. Roberts, and D.H. Arner. 1983. Reproductive characteristics of beaver in Mississippi. Journal of Wildlife Management 47: 1172-1177.
    • Wilde, S.A., C.T. Youngberg, and H.H. Hovind. 1950. Changes in compositions of ground water, soil fertility, and forest growth produced by the construction and removal of beaver dams. Journal of Wildlife Management 14: 123-128.
    • Wiley, G.M. 1991. Aquatic invertebrate communities of beaver dams in a brown-water stream of Alberta. M.S. thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.
    • Willis, R.M. A beaver habitat classification system for the Truckee River. M.S. thesis, University of Nevada, Reno. 69pp.
    • Wilsson, L. 1971. Observations and experiments on the ethology of the European beaver (Castor fiber L.). Viltrevy 8(3): 115-266.
    • Winkle, P.L. and W.A. Hubert. 1990. Relations between brook trout standing stocks and habitat features in beaver ponds in southeastern Wyoming. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 10: 72-79.
    • Winston, M.R., C.M. Taylor, and J. Pigg. 1991. Upstream extirpation of four minnow species due to damming of a prairie stream. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 120: 98-105.
    • Wolff, S.W., T.A. Wesch, and W.A. Hubert. 1989. Stream channel and habitat changes due to flow augmentation. Regulated Rivers, Research and Management 4: 225-233.
    • Woo, M. and J.M. Waddington. 1990. Effects of beaver dams on subarctic wetland hydrology. Arctic 43(3): 223-230.
    • Woodward, D.K. 1977. Status and ecology of the beaver (Castor canadensis) in South Carolina with emphasis on the Piedmont region. M.S. thesis, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina. 208pp.
    • Woodward, D.K. and R.B. Hazel. 1991. Beavers in North Carolina: ecology, utilization, and management. Publication No. AG-434. North Carolina State University, Coooperative Extension Service, Raleigh. 21pp.
    • Woodward, D.K., J.D. Hair, and B.P. Gaffney. 1976. Status of beaver in South Carolina as determined by a postal survey of landowners. Proceedings, Annual Conference, Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 30: 448-454.
    • Woodward, D.K., R.B. Hazel, and B.P. Gaffney. 1985. Economic and environmental impacts of beaver in North Carolina. Pages 89-96 in P.T. Bromley (ed.), Proceedings of the Second Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conference, Raleigh, North Carolina.
    • World Wildlife Illustrated. 1970. The American beaver (Castor candensis). World Wildlife Illustrated 2(1): 4-6.
    • Wotton, R.S. 1992. Animals that exploit lake outlets. Freshwater Forum 2: 62-76.
    • Wright, J.P., C.G. Jones, and A.S. Flecker. 2002. An Ecosystem engineer, the beaver, increases species richness at the landscape scale. Oecologia 132: 96-101.
    • Yavitt, J.B., G.E. Lang, and A.J. Sexstone. 1990. Methane fluxes in wetland and forest soils, beaver ponds, and low-order streams of a temperate forest ecosystem. J. Geophys. Res. 95: 22463-22474.
    • Yavitt, J.B., L.L. Angell, T.J. Fahey, C.P. Cirmo, and C.T. Driscoll. 1992. Methane fluxes, concentrations, and production in two Adirondack beaver impoundments. Limnology and Oceanography 37: 1057-1066.
    • Yeager, L.E. and K.G. Hay. 1955. A contribution toward a bibliography on the beaver. Tech Bull State of Colorado Department of Fish and Game 1 : 1-103.
    • Yeager, L.E. and R.R. Hill. 1954. Beaver management problems on western public lands. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 19: 462-479.
    • Yeager, L.E. and W.H. Rutherford. 1957. An ecological basis for beaver management in the Rocky Mountain Region. Transactions of the North Amrican Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 22: 269-299.
    • Zurowski, W. 1992. Building activity of beavers. Acta Theriologica 37: 403-411.
    • Zurowski, W. and B. Kasperczyk. 1986. Characteristics of a European beaver population in the Suwalki Lakeland. Acta Theriologica 34: 311-321.
    • Zurowski, W. and B. Kasperczyk. 1988. Effects of reintroduction of European beaver in the lowlands of the Vistula Basin. Acta Theriologica 33: 325-338.
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Citation for data on this website:
Beaver — Castor canadensis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AMAFE01010
 
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