Beavers are ingenious animals, second only to humans for their engineering capabilities. They are semi-aquatic rodents, spending much of their time in water, and reliant on it for both defence and food. They have developed skills to manipulate their environment to suit their needs. This is beneficial to themselves but also the wider ecosystem, which is why beavers are known as a keystone species.
You might think, by their appearance that beavers are omnivores but this is not true. If they are not omnivores, then what do beavers eat exactly? Let’s take a look.
What Do Beavers Eat?
Beavers are often mistaken for similar looking omnivorous animals like the groundhog or otters. However, unlike these other animals, beavers actually herbivores. They were believed for a long time by some, to enjoy an omnivorous diet eating fish, given that they have such an imbedded relationship with the water. However, they have a herbivorous diet which varies depending on where they live.
Water plays an important role in providing aquatic vegetation, and also as an environment to store food in, or next to, away from opportunist competitors. It also gives them a place to feel safe away from predators they face on land.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, they are known to eat leaves, bark, and branches from trees, as well as aquatic plants. They also eat nuts, berries, and other fruits. They seem to be able to adapt and eat whatever is available to them, and are even good at breaking down cellulose.
In the winter, when food is scarce, beavers will eat their own faeces to get nutrients. There is evidence of them doing this in the comfort of their own lodges. They will also eat more bark and cambium in the winter months, in contrast to the more herbaceous and aquatic foods that they eat in spring and summer. They are known to store food for the cold months in a cache that they build in their lodge, next to cold water which works like a makeshift fridge.
What Do Baby Beavers Eat?
Baby beavers which are known as kits, will live off their mothers milk and nothing else for the first few weeks of their life. After around 3 weeks to a month, they will start to eat soft solid food, like leaves, inner bark and foraged fruit. Both parents provide care and teach their young, including how and what to eat. By around 6 weeks the kits will be reliant on solid food, fully weaned from their mothers milk.
How Do Beavers Eat?
Beavers eat by chewing on plants with their powerful incisors. They will also store food in their cheeks to eat later. Beavers have incredible teeth, which allows them to fell the trees that they use to build their lodges and dams. It also allows them to access the cambium and soft bark within these trees for food. They will always choose to build their colony within a good location to suitable trees, and to water that they can manipulate.
They have 20 teeth in total, of which the molars are equipped with ridges for grinding tough, woody materials. Their front incisor teeth, are made up of two very different materials at the front and back. The front of the teeth are made of incredibly tough enamel, and the back is made up of softer dentin. As the dentin wears down quicker than the enamel, the beaver’s teeth keep themselves nice and sharp. As long as they keep chewing down trees regularly to keep their teeth maintained!
Beavers usually eat and store food in their lodge or in water, where they can float in the relative safety away from land predators such as red foxes or Eurasian wolves. When eating they will hold the food upright, take bites and chew, generally with their mouth closed.
Do Beavers Have A Favorite Food?
There are two species of beaver – the American beaver and the Eurasian beaver and both have a similar diet.
They are not very picky about their food and are quite adaptable, but they do have a few common favorites which include the bark and cambium from the following trees:
Of all these trees, research suggests that the Aspen is their favorite. Other foods that they frequently enjoy depending on the season include:
- Soft fruits suck as apples and berries
- Aquatic plants, reeds, water lilies, watercress and cattails
- Roots, vines, ferns and soft new bark.
Are There Any Foods Beavers Can’t Eat?
Based on what we know about their diet, it seems that beavers are able to eat pretty much anything herbaceous. However, if there isn’t a lot of aquatic vegetation in their area, they may not be able to get all the nutrients they need from the plants available. This is where they may turn to eating their own poo. They are pretty adept at teaching their young plants to eat and what to avoid.
Did You Know?
- A beaver’s teeth never stop growing!
- Beaver’s teeth are an orange color because they contain iron which helps to make them so strong.
- Beavers live in small families called colonies and all members help to look after the young and work together.
- Beavers create their own dams, lodges, caches that act as fridges, and are incredible engineers.
- Beavers have a great instinct about which way a felled tree will fall, so accidents are rare. They usually let the wind bring down a tree rather than chew it to the point that it falls.