A Quick Snack

There are beavers living in the Susquehanna Wetlands Nature Area, but we almost never see them. Avidly hunted by humans for centuries for their luxurious fur, beavers have learned the hard way to be shy and elusive. And with their keen senses of hearing and smell, beavers can detect the heavy footfalls and exotic scents of a casual human hiker long before they get close. Combined with their nocturnal lifestyle, this makes beavers a rare sight, even for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. More often, we are left with the signs that they have passed by.

A sure sign that they are in the area is trees like these that have been girdled by beavers in search of food. Contrary to popular belief, beavers never eat fish. They are strict vegetarians, feeding mostly on tender shoots, cattails and their favorite: the soft bark of young trees. Even if they are not felling trees to make dams, they will often chew the bark around the base of the tree as a tasty snack. Sometimes they will keep going into the heartwood of the tree because beavers, like all rodents, must frequently gnaw to keep their continuously-growing teeth worn down.

As you might expect, this is not a particularly healthy turn of events for the tree.

When I take kids through the wetlands and we see a beaver-chewed tree, they are often struck by how much it looks exactly like what they thought it would look like: the shape of the chew is almost exactly as it is depicted in cartoons!

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