Beaver Teeth and Other Beaver Facts
It’s not hard to see where beaver teeth have been at work along the edge of a stream, lake or pond. Stumps of felled trees at times look as if they’ve been worked on with a giant pencil sharpener. The beaver is certainly one of the more interesting rodents in the world, besides being the second largest. It’s famous for its fine fur, well known for its broad tail, and at times considered a nuisance because of damage caused by its teeth.
Beaver teeth that are of the greatest interest to most people are the front incisors. In our terminology, the beaver can be considered to be buck toothed. In fact the mascot of Oregon State University, the beaver, is named “Bucky Beaver”. The beaver is also a national emblem of Canada. The beaver is the engineer of the animal world, felling trees, building rams and lodges, and constantly cutting and moving material through use of its strong sharp teeth, powerful legs, and rudder-shaped tail.
Self Sharpening – Beaver teeth are strong and sharp, and as they are continuously at work, need to continuously grow, which they do. A beaver with nothing to chew on would eventually be in big trouble, but in the wild they find plenty of things to cut and chew on to keep their teeth to a reasonable size. One might think that all of the cutting and chewing would eventually make the teeth dull. This is true for most animals. Many animals have trouble eating as they attain old age because their teeth have become worn down. Not so with the beaver. Beaver teeth, at least the incisors, are self-sharpening. The outer edge of the incisor is protected by a very hard enamel, just as is the case with a human tooth. The inside edge however is much softer, and wears away more quickly. This tends to keep the biting edge very sharp. The fact that the tooth continuously grows compensates for the wearing of the inner side. Baby beavers are born with their teeth already exposed, and those teeth will grow and remain sharp during the beaver’s 10 to 15 year life span.
Not A Dangerous Animal – Getting bitten by a beaver would not be a pleasant experience at all given its sharp teeth and strong jaws. Fortunately for humans, the beaver is a relatively shy creature and there are no records of one ever attacking a human. It might bite out of self defense, but anyone harassing a wild animal probably deserves that.
Felling Trees Have A Purpose – Considering all the trees that have fallen victim to beaver teeth, one might think of the beaver as being quite destructive, destroying whole stands of trees for its own use or pleasure. The beaver cuts down trees, or chews on the bark for two reasons. One is for food. While it may sample the bark of a larger tree, the beaver generally prefers small trees, branches, or twigs, and its favorite food is the water lily. The other reason for cutting down trees, especially larger ones, is to build a dam or lodge. Beavers are not expert lumberjacks able to cut down a tree and make it fall in a desired direction. Occasionally a beaver will be killed by a fallen tree it is just finished working on. Beavers have been known however to dig channels in soft ground, usually found in riparian areas, for the purpose of floating logs to their dam or lodge sites. Their flat tails come into play here, both as rudders, and as an extra limb used in maneuvering a tree or branch.
The felling of trees by beavers should not be discouraged unless done on private property or in some parks. It’s a fairly easy matter to protect prize trees from beavers, though you may lose one before knowing a beaver is in the area. Fallen trees or dead trees left standing and not used by the beaver are used by other wildlife. What the beaver does from day to day usually fits in fine with the workings of the local ecosystem. Beaver teeth are a wonder of nature, and not an enemy.