Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to see a beaver at the waterside in the winter? You may be wondering where they’ve gone. So do beavers hibernate?
Wild beavers do not hibernate in the winter. Beavers do not have the biological ability to lay dormant for long periods of time. Beavers remain active through the winter months, making adaptations and preparations to survive. This includes changes in diet, fur, habitat, and daily activity.
If you want to know more about how beavers adapt to winter then keep reading. This guide will take you through everything you want to know about the changes and preparations beavers make to survive in the winter season.
Let’s get going.
Can Beavers Hibernate?
Hibernation is a period of extreme period of rest that allows warm-blooded animals to rest for long periods of time. True hibernation allows these animals to drop their heart rate, body temperature, metabolism, and breathing. The levels these drop to are just enough to keep them alive.
A state of hibernation can last for a few days or a few months. The animals need to prepare for hibernation months in advance so they have enough energy to during this time and to wake from this state. That’s because animals don’t take in any food for energy during hibernation.
Being able to go into hibernation is a natural ability for the animal. They have no control over the blood chemicals and hormones that trigger a state of hibernation each year. They also need the ability to go for long periods without eating or passing waste.
Beavers do not have the physical ability to hibernate. In winter the beavers need to remain active to eat, remain sheltered and eliminate their waste.
Yet winter conditions are risky for the beavers to survive. That means they have to make a few adaptations to their lifestyle to help them survive the winter months.
How Do Beavers Survive In Winter?
Beavers will make a variety of preparations to survive through the winter season. These adaptations need to ensure the beavers stay warm, safe, and well-fed.
Let’s look at what beavers do to survive in winter.
1. Grow a Coat
A beaver’s fur is one of the best defenses it has for winter preparations. Not only does their fur have to keep them warm but it has to keep them well protected from the water.
Beaver fur is made of two layers. The upper fur layer is the long, coarse, brown hairs that you can see. This is designed to be as weatherproof as possible. The upper layer will grow thicker and longer for the winter season. It’s the first line of defense to prevent the winter cold, frost, and winds from dropping the beaver’s body temperature.
The second layer is one you don’t see, known as the underfur. This is a very soft layer of fine hair. It provides insulation and prevents water from reaching the beaver’s skin. An extra oily layer provides even further protection against water getting in. This layer is another line of defense to stop the beaver from losing body heat.
Beavers fur can both stop the cold from getting in, but also prevent the body heat from getting out.
Beaver fur is highly sought after in the fur trade. That’s because beaver fur is extremely soft, thick, for humans to wear, and perfect for keeping out the cold.
2. Build a Fat Layer
In the summer months, beavers will try to eat as much as they can. This isn’t because they are greedy or need all the energy immediately.
It’s a survival technique they use to build up an extra fatty layer for the wintertime. Overeating allows them to convert extra food into fat. This fat is stored around their body as well as an emergency fat supply in their tails.
By December a beaver’s tail will be around 40-60% fat. By the time spring comes around this fast supply will have been used up and will have fallen to around 10%.
The beavers will use this fat supply in winter for two different reasons. The first is that the fat gives them insulation to keep them warm.
The second reason is that the fat supply can be used for energy if the beavers can’t access a food supply. This means they can go for longer without eating but have enough energy to forage.
Summer is the best time to start building this fat supply as there is plenty of food to go around.
3. Store Food
Unlike other wild mammals, beavers don’t adapt their diet for the winter months. They will eat the same things throughout the year.
A beaver can eat up to 2lbs of food every day in the winter. Yet, in winter the beaver’s usual diet of twigs and vegetation is much harder to find in these quantities. The beavers are also having to compete with large animals like the moose, for the same foods.
To combat this the beavers create a food cache during the summer when supplies are high. Their food caches are usually kept as a large pile of sticks just outside their lodge. This means they don’t have to travel too far to gather some food.
A beaver food cache may be kept underwater. If there is too much food that it reaches the surface level, the beavers need to weigh this down with heavy tree parts to stop it from floating away.
The beaver can also create food shelves inside their lodge, where they keep a smaller supply of foods. It’s like their very own pantry in their home.
These caches reduce the amount of land foraging the beaver has to do in winter. Beavers are already slow and awkward when on land, but adding snow into the mix makes them easier for predators to catch. Caches allow them to only have to travel back and forward a short distance outside their lodge.
4. Build a Lodge
The beaver’s engineering of their homes (lodges) is an amazing skill that helps them to survive a lot longer than most wild animals. Their lodges provide them with a safe and secure place for them to rest over winter.
The beaver lodge is built from branches, mud, and leaves. The construction is so strong and well insulated that it maintains an ambient temperature inside, even in the coldest winters.
The beavers will build a dam to create a deep barrier of water around their lodges. This pool protects them from hungry animals getting access to the lodge. This protection allows beavers to keep to themselves during winter.
As the water freezes over in winter it restricts the beavers from being in their lodge. They can still get in and out of the underwater entrances. This is why a nearby food cache is so important.
Although the beavers are remaining active in their lodge and under the ice surface, it can look like there is no activity. This helps them to go undetected by any predators nearby.
Beavers have also been known to share their lodges with muskrats over winter. This allows all the animals to benefit from sharing body heat to survive the cold.
5. Start Mating
All that time spent in the lodges means that beavers need to keep themselves busy. And what better way to pass the time than mating.
Beaver pairs will start to mate around November December time. This is actually a good survival strategy to help their young survive the winter.
By mating at the start of winter, the females have times to rest. Baby beavers (kits) are born in springtime. This means they are born at a time where the weather is good and food supplies are high. This gives them a much better chance to survive when they are so vulnerable.
The kits are older by the time their first winter comes around. As beavers stay as a family unit until the kits are around 2, then they get the experience of learning their parent’s winter survival strategies.
The beaver’s lodges are set up with areas that are intended for the baby beaver to keep safe and warm. They can also practice foraging and swimming as soon as they can.
6. Reduce activity
You may have heard of the phrase ‘busy as a beaver’. And that’s normally true, but not in winter.
Although beavers are still active in winter they reduce their daily activities a lot during the winter months. This helps them to conserve as much energy as possible to help them survive.
Due to frozen water, beavers don’t really have the option to be as active on the land as they usually are. That’s simply because they can’t get through the thick ice layers. This means for periods of time they can only move around their home and under the water to collect food from their caches.
Moving around too much in the cold will also use up too much of their fat stores, which is vital for energy. The beavers will use up around 30-50% of their fat stores in winter.
Also in winter, there are plenty of starving wild animals who will see a fat beaver as a great meal if given the chance to attack. Being caught out and about in a harsh winter storm can result in a beaver becoming disorientated and freezing to death.
Do beavers migrate?
Beavers do not migrate during the winter. Beavers are extremely territorial and will stay within a set range of their habitat. This range can be up to 12 miles (20km) however this is typically around 1.8mile (3km).
A beaver seen in winter is normally foraging for food and not migrating.
In fact, migrating for the winter is often fatal for beavers. This will usually only happen if their lodge has been destroyed or become uninhabitable.
If beavers need to relocate before winter, they will need to build a new lodge. That often means they lose their food caches too. Beavers in this situation will often succumb to starvation during the winter months.
How Cold Can Beavers Tolerate?
Beavers are well adapted to living in climates with freezing temperatures. Their fur has adapted to both keeping the cold out and keeping their body heat in.
What’s better is their fur prevents immersion hypothermia. This means that beavers are immune to losing heat quicker when submerged in water as other mammals do. That’s due to the beaver’s size, body shape, and heat-conducting properties of its tail and hind legs in the water.
Beaver try to reduce much of their time in the open space or water in winter. Their lodge remains an ambient temperature so their body temperature does not fluctuate when inside them.
Wild beavers don’t hibernate in the winter. They do however make special adaptations all year round to ensure they survive the colder months. This includes making changes to their fur, fat supplies, and daily activity. They will also prepare for winter by storing food and building a safe shelter.
The challenges winter brings are well known to beavers. By making these changes throughout the year they can ward off challenges. This includes lack of food, protection from predators, and shelter from the weather.