Editor's Picks

01 November 2011

Beaver The Amazing Engineer

They may not use the same materials you would use in a construction project. And they may not have the same tools or equipment, but you will have to work fast to keep ahead of them. In a single night a colony of beavers have been known to build a dam across a stream, effectively stopping the flow of the water. They have even been known to build the dam with two or three tiers upstream from the dam to hold back the force of the water. Then, in the pond that forms behind the dam, they build their lodge.

Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment. Living in rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, and swamps, beavers take on large-scale construction projects. Masters at dam building, they can completely change the vegetation and animal life of an area.

How do they do it? They are doing what their great Creator—and ours—designed them to do!

In researching this fascinating little animal, I came upon many statements that sounded like the beaver made his own choices—i.e., the beaver has a very heavy fur because he needed it to survive. The beaver has very sharp teeth because he must use them to fell trees to survive. I also read that the beaver coated his teeth with iron because gnawing wood is very demanding on the beavers' teeth! (Did our ancestors choose to enamel their teeth with calcium?)

Those who hold to the common views of evolution believe that small animals such as the beaver survived because little by little over many years they adapted to their environment. In other words, beavers do well in water because they have lived so long in the water that they have developed the appropriate type of feet, limbs and fur necessary for survival—as though they solved their own problems without intelligent direction. (If so, how did they survive while they were in the adapting process?)

Think about it as you are reminded of the wonders of this small, common animal—and give praise to the great Designer, who, the Quran says,

"And Allah has created every animal from water; of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills: for verily Allah has power over all things." [Quran 24:45]

Beavers are designed for the water

Beavers inhabit the waterways of almost every state and province of North America. Powerful animals about 4 feet in length and weighing as much as 60 pounds, they are North America's largest rodent. Able to move well on both land and in water, they are best in the water.

What does one need to live and work in shallow, cold water?

A waterproof suit?
The beaver has an inch-thick, double fur, fully waterproofed by an oil which the beaver makes and combs into its fur (the beaver has a special split nail on one toe of each of its hind feet to serve as a comb for this purpose).

Ability to swim?
The beavers are excellent swimmers—when first born they are able to swim! Their large hind feet, six inches across, give them strong propulsion through the water. (By contrast, their front feet are only about 2 to 3 inches across, but are just right to hold sticks and branches while they are swimming or walking on their hind feet.) Our Creator has even designed beavers to have their own built-in flippers—their hind feet have webbing between the toes, just like a duck.

Stoppers for ears and nose?
The beavers have valves in their ears which close to keep the water out when they are swimming. They also have valves in their nostrils which form a watertight seal, so that they do not get water up their noses when they dive or swim under water. And beavers have one more—they have a flap of skin behind their front teeth so that they can cut with their front teeth and keep their throat closed. Useful? Surely is when they need to cut down a tree underwater. Or carry a stick in their front teeth while swimming underwater. (How did Mr. Beaver figure out how to accomplish this?)

Goggles to protect their eyes?
The beavers have something better than goggles. Their Designer has equipped them with a transparent eyelid that closes when they enter the water. This special eyelid protects their eyes from nasty debris floating in the water, so that even with their eyes “closed” they can keep swimming and see where they are headed.
Ability to steer themselves through the water?

Beavers are clearly built to travel through water. Their broad, flat tails function as rudders, helping the beaver to maneuver large logs and to swim in the direction they intend.

Designed to build

What does one need to be able to build in a woody, wet environment? Our marvelous Designer has equipped Mr. and Mrs. Beaver with a set of tools that go with them wherever they go.

Sharp cutting tools

A beaver is said to be able to cut down a willow tree 5 inches in diameter in a minute. (Have you heard the phrase, “working like a beaver”?) How do they do it? Our great Designer has provided the tools: two self-sharpening, chisel-like incisor teeth on each jaw at the very front of the beaver's mouth. It just happens that the upper teeth overlap the lower incisors(!), creating friction that keeps the teeth at chisel sharpness.

Don't teeth wear down from continually gnawing, chopping, and chewing tree trunks, branches and bark? Beaver teeth come with a lifetime warranty—their front incisors never stop growing as long as the beaver lives. (Did the beaver plan or design this feat? Wouldn't we like to grow ourselves a new set of teeth as we age?!)

Super-strong cutting tools
The beaver's front teeth are also super-strong  While our teeth are covered with calcium, the exterior surface of the beaver's teeth is covered with iron. The beaver's teeth are built for durability.

Engineering skills
Often the first evidence of beavers is the sudden appearance of a dam across a river or creek. Quickly the area behind the dam becomes a muddy pond—just what the beavers want. The main reason: their chief predators don't like to walk through muddy, wet areas.

The beaver's engineering skills are amazing. If the water is slow moving, the beaver will build a dam straight across the water. If the water in the stream is fast flowing, they will build the dam on a curve, so that it can withstand the force of water more effectively. Beavers have even been known to slow down the speed of the river upstream by piling in branches to reduce the water's speed so that it won't wash away their home.

In the shallow water above the dam, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver construct their lodge, or sometimes in the bank adjacent to the river or pond. Using small intertangled twigs, sticks, branches, and other debris, they create a large mounded structure. This lodge has one central above-water chamber, usually eight to twelve feet high and three feet wide. All the entrances are submerged—an ingenious design to keep unwelcome predators (like eagles and wolves) out of the beaver lodge.

In the fall of the year, the beavers plaster the outside of their lodge mound with mud, making a concrete-like layer that no predator can easily break through. This also makes the lodge waterproof—except for the peak, which is left open to allow air and light to enter.

In addition to building very cozy lodges, the beavers also dredge out underwater channels—grooves in the bottom of the lake, likely connecting their favorite eating places.

Who taught the beaver these highly specialized techniques of construction?

The beavers' dam, lodge, and pile of stored food are shown here in a cutaway view.

Credit: ABC's of Nature, ed. Richard L. Sheffel

Dinner and snacks

Beavers are vegetarians, feeding primarily on the inner bark, leaves, and shoots of woody plants. They eat the bark, buds, stems, and twigs of trees such as aspen, maple, willow, birch, black elder, and black cherry. They really like soft plants, too, and grasses, mushrooms, ferns, and the roots of water plants are favorite snacks.

When fall comes, the beavers start stockpiling winter food supplies. They sink large amounts of branches into the mud close to the entrances of their homes, so that even during a severe winter they have plenty of food just outside the door.

Can we think that a beaver just happened? This amazing animal that is capable of organizing its work, and planning its construction projects—can we think that this little animal developed by chance, without any intelligent guidance? Can we think that its nose flaps and ear flaps, and its remarkable ability to stay submerged for as long as 15 minutes just happened? Did the beaver design its own front teeth and coat them with iron so that they would be super sturdy? Did the beaver's teeth start growing continuously during its whole lifetime just because they were needed?

"There are signs for the believing nation in the creation of their (own) selves, and the creation of the animals He has scattered (across the world)." [Quran 45:4]
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