The Carleton Arboretum is often thought to be a great place for a romantic walk. But there may be more love brewing in the Arb than one would initially think. In fact, the Arboretum is home to a very special population of animals: beavers. And beavers mate for life.
Despite the excitement many people now foster for these curious creatures, who are the second largest species of rodent in the world, beavers historically were hunted in the tens of millions. Trappers sought them out for their valuable fur and even used their glands for medicinal purposes and perfumes. But perhaps what inspired the greatest animosity towards beavers was their seemingly destructive system of damming and lodging, which is now known to play a valuable role in ecosystem health.
The living areas of beavers are easy to spot, as they are often marked by fallen trees and scattered woodchips. This is because beavers cut down smaller trees with their long and constantly growing teeth to supplement their preferred diet of water lilies with tree bark. When creating their dams, beavers also systematically gnaw down large, mature trees. First, dams are constructed with strong vertical trees to support the crisscross pattern of smaller trees. Then any leftover gaps are filled with weeds and mud in order to create a sufficient dam for their lodge. The lodge, which is comprised of one den to dry off and one den for living, is built by coating piled branches with mud that freezes over and helps insulate their homes in the winter. And for safety from predators, beaver lodges are only accessible from underwater.
So, if you might want to take a trip to see some of the beaver habitats in the Arboretum, walk along the Cannon, Spring Creek, and especially the Earth Day Forest. You might just be lucky enough to catch a peak of one of these exciting (not to mention faithful) residents of the Arb.
- Victoria Rachmaninoff ’16, for the Cole Student Naturalists