Do Beavers Eat Wood?

Beavers have a reputation for being the lumberjacks of the animal kingdom. All that wood has to go somewhere, so it’s only natural to think that they eat it. So you’re probably wondering do beavers eat wood?

Beavers eat trees but do not eat wood.  They will eat the bark and soft cambium layer of a tree. These are the protective outer layers that surround the hard wood middle of the tree. The wood is used to build and maintain their dams. Beavers will also eat other parts of the tree including leaves, buds, twigs, and fruits.

Now you know that beavers eat some of the trees but not all, then you’re probably a bit intrigued at their tree eating habits. If you want to learn more then keep reading.

Let’s dive in.

Can Beavers eat wood?

Beavers are well equipped with strong, sharp teeth which can cut down larger trees very quickly.

Beavers need to cut down trees as it not only provides them with a food source but also building materials. Wood is needed for beavers to build and maintain their dams.

That means beavers are more than equipped with the right mouthparts to eat wood. Although they use a chewing technique to cut the trees down. Their teeth act as a very effective chisel, taking away small chunks of wood at a time.

You would maybe expect the beaver to then eat these chunks. But, they don’t and will just leave the wood chips to fall on the ground.

Do beavers eat wood?

We’ve already discussed that beavers don’t eat wood. Yet, they do eat trees.

That may seem a bit confusing so let’s clear up what we mean by that.

Trees are made up of a few layers. There is a protective bark on the outside. You then have the phloem and soft cambium layer just underneath the bark.

Then you get to the sapwood and heartwood layers. These are the hardened parts of the tree that we generally refer to as ‘wood’.

Beavers will strip trees of the outer bark as well as the phloem and cambium layers. These layers are full of water, energy, and nutrients which are excellent food sources for the beavers.

Photo Courtesy of US Forest Service

Other parts of the trees that the beaver will eat are small twigs, leaves, buds, and stems. As herbivores, these make up a large part of the beaver’s diet.

The beavers like to eat the soft, green shoots of a tree. These are usually higher up out of the beavers’ reach, so cutting the tree down means accessing more food.

The beavers will even collect these and store them in food caches within their dams. This helps them to maintain food supplies and keep safe during harsh winter conditions.

Beaver eating A Stick

Check out his video of a beaver eating a tree branch. You can see then stripping the bark (the brown part) and well as the cambium layer (the green part). They are then left with only the wood layers.

What Trees do Beavers eat?

Eating trees make up a large part of the beaver diet. They will generally eat what is available to them in wooded areas near their dams.

That’s because beavers aren’t great on land. They really need to chop down those trees quickly and get back to their dams.

Although beavers will eat any wood, they do appear to have preferences. If they are lucky enough to get a choice, softwood trees are generally preferred by beavers.

The top 3 trees beavers favor are:

  • Aspen
  • Alder
  • Willow

There are also some trees that beaver will try to avoid if possible. They generally don’t like conifers. In fact, they will really only eat conifers as a last resort and they have no other options.

It’s thought that the sap produced by conifers is quite a bitter taste for the beavers which acts as a bit of a deterrent.

It’s thought that if beavers in the areas are starting to eat conifers then they will likely move on soon. The bigger picture is that there is a poor food supply in the area which is unlikely to sustain the beavers. They’ll need to move on to help their colony to survive.

Why Do Beavers Cut Down Trees?

We know that beavers don’t eat wood, so why do they cut down a whole tree, if not to eat?

Well, beavers are resourceful animals and trees are a huge part of their survival. Let’s look at a few other reasons beavers need trees.

1. Build Dams

Beavers prefer to cut down trees that are around 6 inches wide. They get the most benefit out of a tree this size. Larger trees can’t be carried back to the dams. They are simply too large and heavy for the beaver to carry.

The beaver will strip the tree down to fairly large braches and carry them back. These tree parts are used to weave walls or to pile up and bulk out the beavers’ dam.

The purpose of a dam is to create a wall in a waterway that slows down the water flow or creates a pool. These deep pools can then be used by the beaver to build a little island lodge in the center.

The water surrounding the lodge allows the beavers protection from predators.

This environmental engineering is an amazing feat for beavers. In fact, it helps them to live much longer than other similar-sized animals due to the protection the water gives their lodge.

2. Maintain their teeth

Cutting down trees helps beavers to keep their teeth healthy and strong. Beaver’s teeth grow continuously so if they are unable to chew then their teeth can become overgrown.

Long teeth can cause beavers various health issues and it is likely to affect their chances of survival.

The beaver’s teeth are coated with iron to help them withstand the stress of constant chewing, as well as protection against acid.

Regular chewing helps the beaver maintain the chisel-like shape of its teeth. This makes them much for effective at cutting down trees quickly.

3. Survive winter

One tree will provide an excess of food for a beaver. That means there are lots of edible parts of the tree left over.

The beavers make use of this and create a little food stockpile to use later. These piles can be stored in the lodge or piled up in the water just outside their lodge.

Beavers don’t hibernate. So these food caches are important for beavers to survive with plenty of food through the winter months.

It means they don’t have to travel too far to source food. They are also then less vulnerable to hungry predators who have easier access to the lodges due to water freezing over.

4. Mark Territory

Beavers that live in Europe and Asia (Eurasian beavers) are known to use branches from trees to signal their territory. This is known as a stick display.

This involves a male beaver standing in the water on its hind legs, holding a stick horizontally between its hands and teeth.

It’s a display intended for nearby rival beaver colonies to warn them away from a neighboring territory.

Related questions

Can beavers digest wood?

Beavers produce bacteria in their stomach which helps them to break down some of the cellulose they consume from vegetation.

As wood is made up of mainly cellulose you’d perhaps think that the beavers would be able to easily digest it.

Yet, the bacteria beaver have can only increase cellulose breakdown by around 30%. This means that although the beaver would get some nutrients, they wouldn’t be able to get it all.

Eating wood is like filling up on empty calories for the beavers. They just can’t extract enough nutrients from it to make it worth their while.

Final thoughts

Beavers do eat trees as part of their diet, but not down to the hard wood inside. They get most of their nutrients from the bark and soft outer layers. Other parts of the tree the beavers eat are the soft shoots, leaves, and fruits.

Wood is beneficial for beavers to help them maintain their health and build habitats. So although they cut down trees for food, they are resourceful and use the parts for other tasks.

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