Beaver (castor, Cuv.), a fur-bearing amphibious animal, of the rodent or gnawing order (rodentia). The beaver has the head compressed, with an unbroken line of profile from occiput to muzzle; 2 large incisors and 8 molars in each jaw, with large and powerful muscles regulating the movements of the inferior jaw; eyes disproportionately small and vision of short range; ears small, but hearing very acute; sense of smell powerful; body short between the fore and hind legs, broad, heavy, and clumsy; length when full grown, from tip of nose to end of tail, 3 ft. 6 or 8 in.; weight from 30 to 60 lbs.; color reddish (in some localities yellowish) brown, in rare instances black, and a few albinos or white beavers have been found. The fore feet of the beaver are digitigrade, and the hind ones plantigrade. The paws are small in proportion to the animal, and compared with the hind feet; in swimming they are not used, and are folded under the body; but they are capable of some rotary movement, which enables the beaver to handle and carry sticks, limbs of trees, mud, and stones, and to use his paws as hands while sitting up or walking on his hind legs. The hind legs are the propelling power in swimming, and the feet are fully webbed to the roots of the claws.
The most conspicuous organ, the tail, is from 10 1/2. to 11 1/2 in. long, 5 1/2 in. broad, nearly flat, straight, and covered for the length of 9 or 10 in. with black horny scales, and is attached by strong muscles to a posterior projection. The common error that the tail is the heaver's trowel is confuted by the fact that the animal always uses mud and soft earth as mortar; hut it serves as a pounder to pack mud and earth in constructing lodges and dams, is used in swimming as a scull, elevates or depresses the head, turns the body, assists in diving, and by striking a powerful blow, the report of which can be heard at the distance of a halt' mile, it gives an alarm; while the strong muscles enable the beaver when standing erect to use the tail as a prop. Beavers are monogenics, and dissection is necessary to distinguish the sex. The female brings forth from 2 to 6; young in May, and weans them in 6 weeks. The period of gestation is from 12 to 16 weeks, and the beaver lives from 12 to 15 years. Water is the natural element of the beaver, and its movements on land are awkward and slow.
For commercial purposes, besides its fur. the beaver furnishes castoreum, a secretion used in medicine as an anti-spasmodic, and its flesh is much esteemed as food by trappers and Indians. - The beaver is social, pairs and brings Dp a family to maturity, and sometimes two or more families inhabit the same pond. The common supposition that beavers live in villages or colonies is erroneous. All the inhabitants may assist in constructing or repairing the common dam, but each family has its own lodge and burrows, and lays in its own supply of provisions for the winter. As their work is curried on by night, little is actually known of their method except from the examination of what they effect. They only build dams when they have chosen the site of their settlements on running streams which do not afford a sufficient depth of water to be secure against freezing in winter; and this they do by cutting down trees, invariably up stream of the place selected for their weir, so that the current may hear them' down toward the site. The trees which they thus cut down with their fore teeth are often five or six inches in diameter. Where the current is gentle, the dam is carried horizontally across; but where the water runs swiftly, it is built with an angle or convex curve up stream.
These materials rest on the bottom, where they are mixed with mud and stones by the beavers, and still more solidly secured by the deposit of soil carried down by the stream, and by the occasional rooting of the small willow, birch, and poplar trees, which they prefer for their work, in the soil at the bottom. Their houses or lodges, seldom made to contain more than four old and six or eight young beavers, are very rudely built; sticks, stones, mud, and all the materials used in constructing the dam, are piled horizontally, with no method beyond that of leaving a cavity in the centre. There is no driving in of piles, wattling of fences, and mud plastering, as described; and when leaves or grass are interwoven, it is done casually, not to hind the mortar, as men apply hair for that purpose. The beaver conveys the materials between his fore paws and chin, arranges them with his fore feet, and when a portion is placed as he wishes it, he turns about and gives it a slap with his tail. In the breeding season, and in early summer, the beavers do not live in their houses, nor in communities, but only become gregarious in the winter, and when preparing for it.
They begin to build ordinarily in the latter part of August, although they sometimes fell their timber earlier in the summer; but their houses are not finished and plastered until late in the season, when the freezing of the mud and water as the material is laid on adds much to the security of the beavers against the vyolverene or glutton, which, with the exception of man, is their worst enemy. The food of the heaver consists of the bark of the aspen, willow, birch, poplar, and alder, of which it lays up in summer a stock for the winter, on the bank opposite its lodges; hut unless compelled by necessity, it avoids the resinous evergreens, such as the. pine and hemlock. The beaver is easily domesticated, and becomes very tame. - The habitat of the American beaver formerly extended from the Arctic sea to the gulf of Mexico; they were found in the greatest number near Hudson bay, on the shores of Lake Superior, at the head waters of the Mississippi, and on the Yukon, Mackenzie, Frazer, and Sacramento rivers.
During the colonial period beavers were abundant in New England, New York, to some extent in the Canadas, and on the margins of rivers throughout the south; they are still seen, but rarely, in Maine, New York, and Virginia. Colonization, which the beaver, hunted for its fur, in no small degree induced in some regions, contracted its habitat; later trapping and hunting has completely exterminated the animal in regions where it once was abundant, and it is now found only in the Hudson Bay territory, in the Canadas, in upper Michigan, on the upper Missouri, and to some extent in Washington, Nevada, California, and Oregon. The colonists and the Indians pursued the beaver hunt with such rapacity as to exterminate the animal in regions within reach, and as early as 1700 beaver skins were no longer exported from New England, New York, and the middle states. Settlement and hunting at the west have driven beavers within a narrower circle; and the hunter's ingenuity in traps and scent baits, with a knowledge of the habits of the animal, soon results in the capture of nearly every beaver in the hunted region. The trapping season begins in November and ends in March, but the hunt is pursued throughout the year, in spring, summer, and fall on the dams, and in winter through the ice.
A trapper manages from 50 to 70 traps in a circuit of 30 or 40 miles; and on the S. shore of Lake Superior an Indian family of four good trappers will take from 75 to 150 beavers in a season. Of late years the substitution of silk for fur for hats, and the consequent decline in the value of the skins, have caused a relaxation of the hunt and some increase in the numbers of the animal on the upper Mississippi and around Lake Superior. A regulation of the Hudson Bay company compels an interval of five years in a beaver district after a season's hunt before trapping is resumed; but it is not possible for the beaver to recover its former numbers in any region. There was, however, an increased activity in trapping and in the trade in 1871, occasioned by use of the fur in Russia and on the continent for trimmings for ladies' wear, and for men's gloves and collars; and in January, 1872, there was an advance of 35 per cent, over the prices in 1871. The extent of this fur trade may be estimated from the following statistics: In 1624 the Dutch West India company began the trade in America by exporting from New Amsterdam 400 skins; from 1625 to 1635, 81,183 skins were exported; in 1743 the Hudson Bay company exported 150,000 skins; during the years 1854, 1855, and 1856 this company sold in London 627,655 beaver skins, a portion of the first sales being the accumulation of previous years.
In 1871 the London sales of the Hudson Bay company were 124,538 skins, but probably the entire sales abroad were 150,000 skins, to which must be added 25,000 skins in the United States, making the production for the year in the United States, at Hudson bay, and on the Columbia river, 175,000 skins. From January 1 to March 6, 1872, the Hudson Bay company sold in three auctions in London 35,510 skins. During the Dutch occupation of New Amsterdam pelts were worth about $2 25, and were used as part of the currency;.in 1820 on the upper Missouri beaver skins were worth $7 and $8 per pound; in the same locality in 1862 they brought $1 25, and in 1868 $2 per pound. In 1872 the price in London was from 10.$. to 34s. per skin, according to color and size, and '$4 gold for the best skins in the United States; for cub skins 3s. to 4s. sterling. The large skins weigh from 1 1/2, to 2 lbs. - The European beaver was once found in the British islands, in all parts of the continent, in Siberia, and in Asia Minor. It is now extinct, except in rarely found solitary pairs on some of the rivers, such as the Rhine, Rhone, and Danube, and in Siberia. The European is a larger animal than the American beaver, with a paler-colored fur; and, though probably not a distinct species, its habits are different.
It is solitary, not gregarious, and generally lives in burrows instead of constructing lodges and dams. - See "The American Beaver and his Works," by Lewis H. Morgan (8vo, Philadelphia, 1868).
Beaver Lodges and Dam.
Beaver. I. A W. county of Pennsylvania, bordering on Ohio, and intersected by the Ohio and Beaver rivers; area, 650 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 36,178. The soil near the streams is remarkably fertile. The surface is undulating, and in some places covered with extensive forests. Bituminous coal and limestone are abundant. The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago, and the Pittsburgh and Cleveland railroads traverse the county. The chief productions in 1870 were 174,508 bushels of wheat, 59,800 of rye, 414,233 of Indian corn, 532,625 of oats, 21,540 of barley, 193,425 of potatoes, 30,224 tons of hay, 936,107 lbs. of butter, and 421,907 of wool. There were 5,882 horses, 7,901 milch cows, 6,702 other cattle, 98,300 sheep, and 12,092 swine. Capital, Beaver. II. A S.W. county of Utah, bordering on Nevada, and intersected by Sevier river; area, about 3,500 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 2,007. The Wah-satch mountains lie along the E. border, and a portion of Preuss lake is in the N. W. part. There is some good farming land, and deposits of iron, lead, and silver are found, and have been somewhat mined.
Capital, Beaver City.