Perhaps the only rodent anyone really appreciates, the North American beaver (Castor Canadensis) is the second-largest rodent in the world. Abundant across North America, beavers are known for their natural trait of building dams on rivers and streams to provide still-water for protection against predators. Unfortunately, due to historical unchecked trapping and current conflicts with other land uses, such as agriculture and urban sprawl, the North American beaver population has fallen from 60 million to approximately 6 million (as of 1988).
An interesting behavior of beavers is their unique alarm signals: when feeling threatened, beavers will slap the water with their tail and rapidly dive underwater (and remain underwater for up to 15 minutes). The loud noise produced by the slapping of the tail warns other beavers in the area, whom will then dive as well in effort to seek safety.
While the beaver is an interesting rodent (still seems weird to think of it as a rodent, doesn’t it?), its claim to fame in Canada is not attributable to its actions or mannerisms; rather, it is recognized as a symbol of Canada due to its historic importance in the development of Canada through the fur trade. In 1975, in recognition of its influence in our country’s development, the beaver was officially designated as the national animal. It is depicted on the nickel (ie. Canada’s five-cent piece, for the international readers), and was chosen to be the mascot of the 1976 Summer Olympics held in Montreal where it went by the name “Amik”. If we wish to go a few centuries back, we find that the beaver appeared on the coat of arms of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1678 – Wow!
Being such an important animal in Canada, it is always fascinating to see in nature. Perhaps the easiest and most accessible place to see beavers and their lodges in Metro Vancouver is at Burnaby Lake. Anyone with spare time this weekend or looking for an outdoor activity should stop by the lake, explore its trails, and look for this majestic national symbol!