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Beaver (Castor canadensis).—Karl Maslowski
Either species of the aquatic rodent family Castoridae (genus Castor), both of which are well known for building dams. Beavers are heavyset and have short legs and large, webbed hind feet. They grow as large as 4 ft (1.3 m) long, including the 1-ft (30-cm) tail, and as heavy as 66 lb (30 kg). Beavers build their dams of sticks, stones, and mud in small rivers, streams, and lakes, often producing sizable ponds. With their powerful jaws and large teeth, they can fell medium-size trees, whose branches they use in their dams and whose tender bark and buds they eat. One or more family groups share a dome-shaped stick-and-mud lodge built in the water, with tunnel entrances below water level. American beavers (C. canadensis) range from northern Mexico to the Arctic. Their prized pelts stimulated the exploration of western North America, and by 1900 beavers were trapped to near extinction. Eurasian beavers (C. fiber) are now found in only a few locations, including the Elbe and Rhône drainages of Europe. The mountain beaver of the Pacific Northwest is unrelated.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on beaver, visit Britannica.com.