Do Beavers Eat Wood? (You’d think so, Right?)

  • Author: Carl
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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When people think about beavers, they often picture a cute little beaver building a dam and gnawing on wood, which makes most people believe that wood is a basic staple in their lives.

But is that really true?

If you’ve ever asked, do beavers eat wood, the answer is a surprising “no.” In fact.

It may seem like the only thing they eat is wood, but in reality, they’re not eating the wood itself. Beavers are strict vegetarians, but instead of the actual wood, they eat the bark, leaves, and the woody stems, not to mention woody and soft flora. But they are not actually eating the tree itself.

beaver with wood

What Do Beavers Eat: Do Beavers Eat Wood?

Beavers are herbivores, which means that they only eat plant-based foods. They have long incisors that grow continuously all their lives, but when they gnaw on wood and trees, this keeps those incisors the right length.

In fact, if beavers were to stop doing things to keep their teeth the right length, they could actually starve to death, which is why they gnaw so often.

If you were to look closely at a beaver’s teeth you’d notice something interesting: they are a golden-orange color. Why? Because they are rich in iron, and their protective coating of enamel is why their teeth are so strong.

Beavers’ teeth wear away unevenly, which gives them a more chiseled look. This is helpful because it makes it easy for the animals to cut through hard objects like wood.

The teeth in the back of their mouths are molars and are flat and white, and they use these teeth to grind their food.

Interestingly, beavers chew with their mouths closed and the items they eat are kept behind the incisors. While beavers do not eat wood, they do cut down trees in order to make dams and lodges, and they’ll eat both the tree bark and the soft layers of wood underneath.

beavers and tree damage
The damage a beaver can do to a tree

Beavers also have microorganisms in their guts so that they can more easily digest up to 30 percent of the cellulose found in the plants they eat.

Beavers will eat the leaves, woody stems, and even aquatic plants when they are available.

Basically, beavers gnaw at trees to obtain materials to build dams and lodges and at various parts of the trees for food sources.

And the trees they prefer vary, depending on what they’re planning to do with them. Beavers tend to prefer to eat tree bark that comes from aspen, willow, cottonwood, birch, maple, poplar, alder, oak, apple, and black cherry trees.

The items that beavers eat will also depend on the season it is. In the spring and fall, they will eat woody and soft flora, while they eat mostly soft vegetation during the summer months.

Finally, beavers will eat woody fare in the winter months when there is little new growth on plants.

If they cannot find any of the trees mentioned earlier, they will choose fir, pine, and other types of confers, but these are not their favorites and they’ll only choose these types of trees when there is nothing else available.

Beavers gnaw at trees until they fall down, then they’ll use their teeth to clip the branches so they can be added to their food stash.

How Beavers Eat

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Again, beavers use some trees to eat and others to build dams and lodges. If you ever come across a tree trunk that is sharply pointed, has grooves that look like teeth marks, and piles of wood shavings are nearby, this is usually evidence that a beaver has been around the trees!

Beavers are also very industrious, sometimes felling as many as 300 trees in one year. They will eat the leaves, roots, sedges, new twigs, vines, grasses, ferns, blackberry canes, and new bark.

In addition to tree parts, beavers love to eat water lilies, cattails, giant ragweed, clover, and watercress. They’ve even been known to eat sagebrush when other vegetation is hard to find.

Beavers eat by holding their food with their front legs and rotate the food as they go. Beavers gather food in the fall months and will start by making a muddy floor inside of the lodge home, then they’ll push branches and sticks into the mud to keep everything in place.

This food stash is called a cache and is made mostly in areas where the temperatures are cold. They keep this stash throughout the winter so they won’t run out of food to eat when it’s cold outside.

Beavers will store branches on the pond floor beneath their lodge, and the cool water will act as a refrigerator to keep the food fresh and tasty.

What About Baby Beavers?

Baby beavers are called kits, and they nurse from their mothers right after birth. Kits have even been known to nurse standing up.

When the kits are roughly six weeks old, they can eat solid beaver food, and family members will bring it to them. Kits usually stay with their families until they reach around two years of age.

As a general rule, beavers eat their food close to water and close to where their lodges or dens are. Beavers will move to another location once the food supply runs out, although it usually takes several years for that to happen.

The baby beavers’ parents teach them what to eat and what not to eat, and they bring them things such as grass, bark, ferns, cattails, and even mushrooms.

Do Beavers Lay Eggs?

In the fall and winter months, beavers prefer deciduous trees and those that are less than six inches in diameter. They especially love aspen, alder, and willow.

In the spring and summer months, the young kits learn how to eat tubers and shoots from plants that include pond lilies and cattail, so the young beavers’ diets are varied.

They also learn how to eat the soft inner layer of tree bark, which is something that stays with them to adulthood.

Beavers are the second-largest rodent in the world, second only to rats. But unlike rats, which are omnivores and eat both meat and plant-based foods, beavers are vegetarians.

They get up to around 40 pounds and about three feet in length when you count their tails. Beavers also have ravenous appetites and eat practically 24 hours per day.

Conclusion

When people ask, do beavers eat wood, many of them are surprised to learn that the answer to that question is “no.”

While they do eat tree bark and the leaves, branches, and stems of the trees, they do not eat the actual wood itself.

In fact, beavers love trees and use it for two reasons: to build a safe lodge or dam and to eat the parts of the tree they consider edible.

Beavers eat up to around four pounds of food per day, and some of their favorite bark and tree parts come from trees such as alder, oak, apple, maple, and birch, among others.

Beavers are also extremely busy and can fell up to 300 trees per year, so when they aren’t finding food to eat and store away for winter, they are felling trees in order to build dams and lodges so they can store food for those months when there is no food to be found.