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Beavers and Their Kin (FBCEC)

TopicHabitat and Management - Species and Habitat Management
Wildlife - Adaptations
Wildlife - Mammals
Summary
The beaver is well adapted to its environment. This hands-on activity will introduce beavers and other aquatic mammals common to the Ozarks. Participants will examine furs, skulls and tracks as they learn about beavers’ adaptations and basic biology.
Recommended SettingIndoor or outdoor classroom
LocationFred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Contact

Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484

Duration45 minutes-1 hour
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 24
Objectives
  • Learn about beaver characteristics, adaptations and biology.
  • Compare and contrast beavers to other aquatic mammals including otter, muskrat, mink and nutria.
  • Consider conservation and management issues for beavers and other aquatic mammals.
Key Terms*

Adaptation

Aquatic

Conservation

Niche

Nictating membrane

Materials

“Beaver sticks” (limbs that show evidence of being chewed by a beaver)

Mammal poster, cards, assorted illustrations

Skins and skulls of beavers and other aquatic mammals

Track and scat replicas of beavers and other aquatic mammals

(Optional: excerpts from “Beavers: The Biggest Dam Movie You Ever Saw”)

Background

Aquatic animals have several adaptations for living in the water. None, however, are more specially adapted than the beaver. Beavers are considered a “cornerstone species” because they can quickly and drastically alter the habitat in which they live. As a result, they find themselves unwittingly in conflict with humans and are sometimes viewed as nuisances. However, in Arkansas they are responsible for much of the prime waterfowl habitat.

Procedure
  1. Discuss beaver adaptations by asking participants to list some interesting features of beavers. Answers may include webbed hind feet, streamlined body, large flat tail (used as a balancing platform while felling trees, a rudder while swimming or as a warning system to other beavers), large teeth, thick fur for insulation, waterproofing body oil distributed by a split claw on each hind foot, large lungs for extended time under water, valves in ears and nostrils that close while diving, nictating membrane to protect eyes while under water. Fill in any important features that participants do not list.
  2. Optional: Show a portion of the beavers movie or a slide show.
  3. Use beaver items to enrich the discussion of their biology and habitat in Arkansas. Allow participants to examine skin, skull and other items.
  4. Introduce the other aquatic mammals (mink, river otter, nutria and muskrat) with photos or mammal cards as well as skins and other items. Discuss similarities and differences.
  5. Discuss roles of these mammals in the aquatic ecosystem of the Ozarks, and talk about their management.
Modifications

As each adaptation is discussed, a volunteer may represent the beaver and have that person put on the following items:

  • Swim goggles—nictating membranes
  • Nose plugs and ear muffs or plug—valves in nostrils and ears
  • Swim flippers—webbed feet
  • Long insulated coat—body fur
  • Rain poncho—waterproofing body oil
  • Ping pong paddle or fly-swat on a string—flat tail
  • “Billy Bob” teeth or Popsicle sticks—large front teeth
Review
  • Describe how the beaver shares similar attributes with other aquatic mammals.
  • List several of the beaver’s physical adaptations and their benefits.
  • Explain why beavers are sometimes nuisances to humans.
Resources
Related Documents
Glossary

Adaptation – a natural alteration in the structure or function of an organism which helps it to survive and multiply in its environment

 

Aquatic – consisting of or relating to water; living or growing in, on or near the water

 

Conservation – planned management of natural resources (including wildlife and habitat) to prevent exploitation or neglect and to ensure their availability to future generations

 

Niche – a position in an ecosystem that is well-suited to an organism; specific places an organism can live

 

Nictating membrane – transparent inner eyelid in birds, reptiles, and some mammals that closes to protect and moisten the eye; also called a third eyelid