While walking along the Oakleaf Trail at Miami Whitewater Forest, you may notice the handiwork of nature’s most skilled architect: the North American beaver. This rascally rodent leaves behind a lot of evidence for visitors to observe. From gnawed-off bark to completely felled trees, there is no doubt as to just how true the old adage “busy as a beaver” really is.
Beavers are active during all seasons, even throughout tough winters such as this one. They are the only animal, besides humans, that will completely change their habitat to suit their needs. Much of their destruction serves an important purpose: the gathering of building materials.
Beavers build two types of structures: their lodge, which they live in, and their dam, which serves to raise the water level around their homes. This higher water level helps to ensure their lodge is well protected, making it harder for predators to reach them. Studies have shown that beavers in captivity can be stimulated to build a dam when scientists play the sound of running water over a set of speakers. It’s in their nature!
Beavers are complete herbivores, meaning they only eat plant material. The young, tender branches of smaller trees, as well as the sweet outer bark of larger trees, provide them with all the nutrition they need to survive. They will even store extra branches inside their lodge to make sure they have plenty of food throughout the winter.
So the next time you visit Miami Whitewater Forest, be sure to take a hike on the Oakleaf Trail. You might be surprised to see just how much you can learn about an animal’s habits without ever actually seeing the animal at all!
Heather Ficke, Naturalist, Miami Whitewater Forest