Friday, December 20, 2013

Beavers: Ready for the Winter Solstice!

Active beaver lodge at Highland Oaks County Park, Oakland County, Michigan  12/16/13 
All photos by Jonathan Schechter

Beavers are nature's supreme engineers and not just because of their dam building skills. These amazing animals are the largest rodents in North America and may weigh up to 60 pounds. And they  are the only species in Oakland County that alters the environment to suit their needs other than man!  Winter weather transforms the lives of the beaver and  by the time  the Winter Solstice arrives the sturdy lodges become the center of all activity. Each lodge has an above water platform chamber where the beaver family sleeps, dines and grooms all winter. And they stay warm even during howling blizzards. In spring the lodge becomes the birthing chamber for the kits. But to survive until spring the beavers had to prepare in autumn much in the way humans would prepare if given advance notice of a powerful storm---beavers and humans both store food and fortify their homes in preparation. 

Branches were cut from trees they felled  in autumn and dragged to the pond  to be stored in underwater food caches near the lodges. And underwater entrances to the lodge enable the beavers to swim to their winter 'store' to shop for their stashed meals. The survival of each beaver colony during winter depends on the availability of this under-ice food supply and the sturdiness of the lodge to repel predators. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the wolf is the primary winter predator; in Oakland County coyotes pose some risk.  After ice-out next spring beavers  resume their surface swimming and search for fresh  wetland vegetation and tender young twigs and saplings on shore and more trees to cut to repair damage to dams and add to the lodge.



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