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Why BEAVERS Are The Smartest Thing In Fur Pants

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Jul 19, 2017

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Why BEAVERS Are The Smartest Thing In Fur Pants
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  • One of my favorite things to do on this channel is to get you to look at the world you know
  • in a different way, to take something you thought was ordinary, and show you why it’s
  • amazing.
  • Today I’m here in Alaska, and you’re never gonna look at beavers the same way again.
  • [OPEN]
  • Ok, so what do most people know about beavers?
  • They chew down trees, and they build dams.
  • But what most people don’t know is without beavers, North America–and much of the world–would
  • be totally different than it is today.
  • Beavers are one of the ultimate keystone species—a plant or animal so important to an ecosystem,
  • that without it, the whole thing would basically break.
  • Their dams create habitats for dozens of species, filter and purify water, and enrich the soil
  • by trapping sediment and nutrients.
  • Beaver ponds reshape landscapes on such an enormous scale it impacts all other wildlife
  • and vegetation in the area.
  • Earth is home to two beaver species today: one in Europe, and these here in North America.
  • They’re the second largest rodents living today, and like most rodents they have big
  • front teeth that never stop growing.
  • Beaver teeth are actually reinforced with iron, and with their enormous jaw muscles
  • they use those teeth to slice through bark and chop down trees.
  • Besides being carpenters, they even play the part of plumbers.
  • When a beaver hears the sound of running water, it drives them nuts, they know the dam has
  • sprung a leak and they have an uncontrollable instinct to go patch it up.
  • Beavers are ecosystem engineers second only to humans, and they stay pretty DAM busy keeping
  • this pond nice and full.
  • Beavers’ urge to build can sometimes cause headaches, but NO beavers can be an even BIGGER
  • problem.
  • Before European colonists arrived, there were as many as 400 million beavers in the US and
  • Canada!
  • North America was covered with tens of millions of beaver dams.
  • Imagine between 5 and 30 beavers on every kilometer of stream or river on the whole
  • continent!
  • That’s a lotta beavers.
  • But over a few hundred years they were almost hunted to extinction.
  • Beavers were big business.
  • They were trapped for fur, mostly to make hats, but also for sacs on their butts full
  • of castoreum—a pungent substance used in perfumes.
  • The British Hudson’s Bay Company even tried to eradicate beavers from the Pacific Northwestv,
  • figuring with no beavers left to hunt, the United States would stop its westward expansion.
  • Wherever pioneers went, they killed every beaver they could find, despite the fact that
  • beavers were responsible for most of the farmland in the West.
  • Populations dwindled from millions to the low thousands.
  • Without beaver dams, huge areas of land are left with less water.
  • hundreds of species (like fish, birds, insects, and amphibians) are left without a habitat.
  • So… beaver dams are great for other species, but what’s in it for the beavers?
  • Why do they build them?
  • For beavers the pond created by their dams is a safe place to build a home, called a
  • lodge, where they raise their young and keep away from predators.
  • Beavers are pretty awkward on land, but they are safe and happy in the water.
  • The entrance to a beaver lodge is underwater, so beavers can safely scoot in and out.
  • Since they don’t hibernate, this lets them access underwater food stores even when their
  • ponds are frozen over.
  • Beavers’ favorite foods are the leaves and soft outer bark of trees, but like most mammals,
  • they don’t digest wood very well, so they eat their excrement to get the most out of
  • a meal… until it eventually comes out looking like sawdust.
  • A crew of beavers spotted in a pond is usually a family.
  • Beaver couples often mate for life and beaver kits live with their parents for a couple
  • years while they practice their engineering skills.
  • The oldest dams ever discovered are 100,000 years old telling us beavers or their close
  • relatives have been altering our landscapes even before we moved in.
  • And for most of the thousands of years we’ve lived together, we’ve lived in harmony.
  • Now that we’ve realized how important they are, beaver populations are starting to recover.
  • More beavers means more homes for fish and birds, fresher water, and less damage
  • from flooding and forest fires.
  • Beavers feature prominently in the oral histories of North America’s First Nations people,
  • even playing a part in many creation myths, which is neat, because beavers really have
  • created much of the landscape we live in, showing us how old and important our relationship
  • is with the smartest thing in fur pants.
  • Stay curious!
  • If you want to see more of Alaska’s incredible wild life, watch Wild Alaska Live, a special
  • 3-night live event brought to you by PBS and BBC.
  • Check the description for more info.
  • Beavers are big as rodents go today, but during the Pleistocene, Earth was home to a beaver
  • called Castoroides the size of a black bear.
  • Too bad they went extinct.

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Beavers have done more to shape North American landscapes than any animal beside humans. We don’t notice them much today because there aren’t many left, but before colonization, North America was home to hundreds of millions of these furry engineers. This week, we show you why Earth’s second largest rodent is more amazing than you ever knew, and why they’re the smartest thing in fur pants.

Special thanks to Josh Cassidy from KQED’s Deep Look for joining me in Alaska and shooting this episode! ► https://www.youtube.com/user/KQEDDeepLook

Filmed under a Special Use Permit on the Juneau Ranger District, Tongass National Forest

Special thanks to Chuck Caldwell and Juneau Beaver Patrol

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READ MORE:

“Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver” - Francis Backhouse http://amzn.to/2tfmLTZ

“The Beaver: Natural History of a Wetlands Engineer” - Dietland Müller-Schwarze and Lixing Sun http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/977989893

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It’s Okay To Be Smart is hosted by Joe Hanson, Ph.D.
Director: Joe Nicolosi
Writer: Shaena Montanari
Camera: Josh Cassidy
Producer/editor/animator: Andrew Matthews
Producer: Stephanie Noone and Amanda Fox

Produced by PBS Digital Studios
Music via APM
Stock images from Shutterstock http://www.shutterstock.co

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