Beavers and Their Kin (FBCEC)


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.

Grade Level:


Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR


Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484


45 minutes-1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 24


  • 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*:





Nictating membrane

*See glossary for definations


“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”)


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.


  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.


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


  • 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.



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