In the Ingenious Engineering issue of AQUILA Magazine we made a crafty camshaft-driven beaver automaton. But why did we choose a beaver? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, beavers are really clever eco engineers, and secondly because beavers are just all round SUPER COOL. Check out these fabulous facts to find out more.
Where better to kick things off than at the end. (Huh? We’re starting at the end? Ed) Yep. We’re starting at the REAR END, with a fact all about brilliant beaver bottoms. Most animal butts just smell awful, but did you know that a beaver’s behind smells an awful lot like vanilla? This might sound like FAKE NEWS, but it’s actually true! Between a beaver’s pelvis and the base of their tail you can find castor sacs, which excrete a sticky goo. Anal secretions (please don’t ever say that again) aren’t unusual in animals and typically, they STINK! Not our beaver buddies’ butts though. Their unique diet (more about that later) makes a beaver’s behind smell like musky, sweet vanilla. These secretions have even been used in food flavouring (no thanks, ed). There’s something we want to know, though. Who was the first person to figure this out?
A beaver’s diet is 100 per cent plant based. These happy herbivores munch on plants and grasses from their wetland habitats, as well as bark, twigs and leaves from trees. Their diet is very adaptable – they can make do with whatever vegetation is growing nearby. It’s this love for bark-heavy fodder that makes their bums smell so sweet!
Beaver teeth can chop down actual trees so they need to be stronger than your average set of pearly whites. Their iron-rich diet means that beaver gnashers have a stronger coating of enamel compared with most other animals. This high iron content means their teeth also take on an unusual orange hue. Beavers’ teeth never stop growing and can grow on average around 1.2 metres (4 ft) per year. That’s the height of the average 7-year-old! What’s that you say? How do they manage to move around with teeth that are over 1 metre long? This is where the plant-based diet and dam building comes in again; they spend so much time gnawing on tree trunks that their teeth get filed down. Phew!
You probably already know that beavers build dams, you can construct your own here with one of our awesome activities, but did you know what amazing structures they are? Beavers can build around 1.5 m of dam each day, and they won’t stop until their dam is complete. The longest dam ever recorded was a spectacular 1.5 km long! They’re durable, too. Some beaver dams marked on maps from way back in the 1860s are still in use TODAY! (They’re not being used by the same beaver, I presume, ed?!)
Talk about adaptation! A beaver’s anatomical structure has all the right bases covered. Their flat paddle-like tails help them swim effortlessly. Add in webbed hind-legs and waterproof fur, and they’re perfectly primed to get the job done.
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Words: Benita Estevez