Beaver Behaviors: Observing and Questioning
By Tommy McCarthy, Environmental Educator
Earlier this spring while spending the morning by a local pond, I saw the most beavers I’d ever seen out and about – they were swimming around, pushing piles of debris through the water, and two even sat on a little island to groom each other! This activity continued late into the morning, and watching them sparked all sorts of questions in my mind. For one, beavers are usually nocturnal. Why was there a group of them being active so late in the day? I also was curious about the fact that they did seem to be hanging out and working in a little group. I had not really considered before whether or not beavers were social creatures.
Some of my observations seemed to answer the second question – particularly the two that seemed to be grooming each other. Mutual grooming is typically a social behavior in mammals, and serves to form or strengthen a bond between two animals. Witnessing this behavior inspired me to learn more. It turns out that beavers do live in familial groups called colonies, and the colony usually consists of a mated pair, their offspring from the previous year, and their litter of babies from the current year. The year old offspring are called yearlings, and the babies are called kits! Though there is a hierarchy of dominance within the colony, there is rarely any physical aggression or violence. Beavers are also socially monogamous and often mate for life, so the mated pair maintain a social bond with mutual activities like grooming as they work together to raise kits year after year.
My other question was a bit trickier to answer. Why was this particular colony of beavers active during the day? It wasn’t as if they were always out and about at these times. This pond was one that I visit regularly, and it was usually rare to see the resident beavers anytime aside from dusk and dawn. Through research, I was unable to find a likely reason that these beavers were being so conspicuous. All I could find was that beavers are “sometimes observed during the day”. Ultimately, the conclusion I came to was that there is not always an easy or scientific way to explain everything in nature. Perhaps the beavers were just working hard that night and decided to burn the midnight oil, as they say. Although I guess it would be the midday oil in the case of the beavers!