One of the largest rodents known to man, the European beaver has a massive body that is very similar to that of the Canadian beaver. Classified as a mammal in the Rodentia order and from the Castoridae family, this animal measures up to 4 1\2 feet including its tail. Hunted for its valuable fur in the past, this 66-pound beaver almost became extinct at one point.
Even though it is no longer in danger of extinction the numbers of this animal have been greatly reduced. In some countries, the populations of the European beaver still numbered only in the hundreds by the 1970s. More recently they are being re-established in many parts of Europe and in Switzerland where they have been extinct since 1820 they are now being re-introduced.
The hind legs of this amazing creature have webbed digits for swimming. The forelegs, much like arms, have prehensile digits. They have ears that are somewhat hidden in their fur and that can be closed hermetically. The nostrils can be hermetically sealed as well when this beaver swims underwater.
Their scaly tail is shaped much like a spatula and is completely hairless. The European beaver uses its tail mostly as a rudder or for the building of dams. These animals are extremely agile swimmers feeding on reeds, shoots, and the roots of water lilies during the summer and fresh bark in the winter. Their incisors are chisel-shaped and covered in yellow enamel. This animal never has to worry about its teeth chipping or breaking since the incisors grow continuously.
At one time the European beaver was spread throughout the European countries that are east to the Pyrenees and could even be found in a good part of central and northern Asia. They can usually be found around wooded flats near rivers and lakes where they build their homes in the banks with two to five underwater openings. During the drier months of the year, these beavers will build their dams using their teeth to gnaw away at the logs and bracing this with stones and mud.
This is done to prevent the water from falling below the level at which the entrances to their homes can be found. The main diet of this beaver consists of the leaves, bark, and twigs of most deciduous trees. But there are also known to eat a variety of vegetation including algae, meadow grasses, water plants, and roots. These incredible swimmers can move under the surface of the water for up to a half a mile or more without breaking the surface.
The European beaver, like most beavers, live in colonies of twelve or more and are very social animals. The colony is a close knit group protecting their homes and even chasing away others of their kind when they attempt to intrude on the colonies boundaries.
Boundaries are set by the colony with the secretion of castoreum that comes from glands that are located near the base of the tail. You can glimpse this nocturnal animal during the day light hours but beavers accomplish the majority of their work at night. Following the beaver tradition, European beavers are known to mate for life. The mating period begins in February and the young are born in the early part of May.
There are commonly three to seven young born in each kit, even though it is not uncommon to see more in densely populated colonies. The young will stay with the mother for approximately two months before they can be seen working with the colony in preparation for winter.