Beavers: Our Ecosystem Engineers
Much like the founders of Fort Wayne chose the three rivers to build their city, there are a plethora of animals that also dwell along the riverfront. One of the most fascinating of those inhabitants is the beaver.
Despite their size, beavers are actually part of the rodent family. Their thick waterproof fur, flattened tail, closeable nostrils and ears, and transparent eye membrane make them well-equipped for semi-aquatic life. They’re capable of swimming up to five miles per hour, and can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes without air. Beavers, the largest rodent in North America, can grow as tall as 39”, and weigh up to 60 pounds. Their herbivore lifestyle is sustained with leaves, bark, twigs, roots, and aquatic plants.
While beavers are known for building dams, the beavers on our rivers don’t do that because the currents are too strong and there’s too much human activity. Instead of living in lodges, our local beavers burrow into the banks of the river. Beavers are known as “Ecosystem Engineers” because of how much they physically alter the habitats they live in. They show preference to cutting down certain types of trees, which can affect the ecosystem and decrease diversity of plant life near the rivers. The dams they build can affect the populations of fish and other animal life in the area.
One little known fact about beavers is that they have orange teeth. Their teeth are orange because they’re fortified with iron, which helps keeps them strong and free of cavities. Beaver teeth never stop growing, so they gnaw on wood to help regulate the length. You may wonder why you don’t see the beavers along our riverfront, and that’s because they’re mostly nocturnal—meaning they sleep during the day and are active at night. They often use their paddle-shaped tails to slap the surface of the water and warn of predators, which other beavers can hear across long distances. They have excellent senses of smell and hearing which help them navigate, since their eyesight is poor.
Despite their nocturnal lifestyle, beavers have been known to pop up during the day along the riverbanks. Next time you’re walking along the trails, keep your eyes peeled for what might appear to be a furry log floating in the river. One was spotted earlier this year at the peak of Trader’s Point (along the north bank of the St. Marys, just south of 4th Street and Lawton Park), so that’s a good place to aim your binoculars.
Kelly Benton joined the Riverfront staff in 2019 as a special events coordinator. She lives downtown with her husband and two sons, and is excited about all of the development and buzz happening around the rivers. In her free time, she enjoys taking pictures, biking, hitting up the local breweries, and taking long walks through West Central with her family.
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