If you’ve ever seen a beaver in the wild, you’ll know they are much larger than your typical rodent. If smaller rodents need to eat a lot, then it’s probably left you wondering how much a beaver needs to eat each day. But what do beavers eat?
Beavers are herbivores that mainly eat plant-based foods. Staples of the beaver diet are tree bark, leaves, and aquatic plants. Unlike most rodents, beavers are not opportunistic eaters and don’t eat meat. Depending on food availability beavers may also eat grasses, fruits, vegetables, fungi, and grains.
You may be surprised that even though beavers live so close to the water, they don’t eat much pond life. In fact, their diet is pretty specialized. So how do such large rodents survive with such a strict diet?
This guide will take you through everything you want to know about the beaver’s diet. You’ll learn what they eat and some particular feeding habits they have.
Let’s dive in.
What do Beavers Eat?
1. Bark And Twigs
Contrary to popular belief beavers don’t eat wood. They do however use trees for food. Beavers will eat the outer bark layer and the cambium layer of a tree.
The cambium is the soft layer just under the tree bark.
Beavers’ stomachs contain symbiotic bacteria that can break down the cellulose in the tree bark and twigs. This is something that humans can’t do.
You may think that a beaver will eat any tree, but they have preferences.
Trees that beavers prefer to eat are:
Beavers have a preference for trees that grow close to the water edge. Yet they will also take what’s available to them if they don’t have a large choice.
Conifers are usually a beaver’s last choice of tree to eat. Although beavers will eat evergreens at a push when there are no other food sources available. Beavers prefer using these trees for building materials as the bark doesn’t taste too good.
As beavers remain active in winter, they need a stable food supply. Tree bark and twigs are easy for beavers to cache away for winter. Trees are also available all year round unlike fresh green vegetation.
2. Aquatic plants
Beavers are semi-aquatic animals which means they spend a lot of their time in the water. It makes sense that they have adapted to eating aquatic plants.
In the summer, aquatic plants make up around 80% of the beaver’s diet and bark only around 10%.
Beavers are much faster underwater than they are on land. Beavers are able to stay underwater for around 15 minutes at a time. They also have transparent eyelids that help them to see well underwater.
All these adaptations make beavers excellent at diving and sourcing plants that grow under the water’s surface.
Access to aquatic plants gives beavers an advantage over other land mammals when food supplies are scarce. Beavers can still have access to fresh green vegetation in winter when most land vegetation has died off.
The only real competition for aquatic plants is from moose.
Some aquatic plants that beavers eat are:
- Water lilies
Aquatic plants are a rich source of iron in the beaver’s diet. Iron is essential for a beaver’s teeth as it keeps them strong enough to gnaw down trees.
In the summer months, beavers will add soft green vegetation into their diet. They will eat the green shoots, buds, and leaves from trees and shrubs in the forests close to their lodges.
Beavers aren’t too fussy about what greenery they eat and will mostly eat whatever is close to the water’s edge. Staying close to the water as they forage allows beavers to quickly escape from nearby predators.
Beaver mainly eat browse vegetation which is higher up. But they also eat grazing vegetation which is lower down. Grasses and weeds are common vegetation that beavers will eat.
Beavers can get a lot of nutrients from the green vegetation they eat. Plus the more they eat the more fat they can store to survive in winter.
4. Fruit and vegetables
Beavers will take advantage of any fruit, vegetables, and berries they come across when foraging. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of minerals and vitamins for beavers. These nutrients help beavers stay healthy.
Beavers will mainly come across fruits they find on trees. They particularly like to eat apples and cherries.
Vegetables are also eaten by beavers if they happen to find them whilst foraging. Soft leafy greens and vegetables with large green shoots are a favorite.
Vegetables that beavers eat include:
Beavers won’t go out of their way to find fruits and vegetables to eat. Yet as herbivores, beavers aren’t particularly fussy about which type of fresh vegetation they eat. So if they stumble across some, then they will probably eat it.
Beavers will often feed on fungi and lichen as these are commonly found growing on the bark of trees. These foods are a great source of nutrients, especially in the winter months.
Mushrooms are soft and easy for beavers to eat. They are also packed with potassium which helps to satisfy the beaver’s preference for salty foods.
Mushrooms can also be found on the forest floors where beavers forage. Beaver dams are also beneficial for creating wet conditions which help a variety of mushroom species to thrive.
Beavers will happily help themselves to any grains and crops they come across when foraging for vegetation. Filling up on as much food as possible in the summer and autumn months gives them the best chance of survival.
That means that farm crops can be the target for a foraging beaver in the area.
Some grains that beavers are known to eat include:
- Soya beans
Grains can provide beavers with a lot of energy and fiber in their diet. And because grains can be found growing in large fields, beavers can cause a lot of damage for farmers.
Beavers are coprophagic, which means they eat their own poo. Although this sounds pretty gross, it’s extremely beneficial for the beaver diet.
In fact, beavers are hindgut fermenters which means they are able to create two different types of poop.
The first type is the regular poop known as hard feces that contains fully digested foods. The beavers do not eat this.
The second type is known as soft feces or cecotrope. A cecotrope is made up of mostly fermented and undigested foods. These are created in separate bacteria-rich areas in the beaver’s colon known as the cecum. Beavers will only eat cecotropes.
When the beavers eat a cecotrope they can extract more energy, nutrients, and amino acids from the food they’ve already eaten. Cecotropes can also provide beavers with protein and healthy bacteria to maintain good digestion.
8. Beaver milk
Baby beavers (kits) are reliant on their mother’s breast milk as their first food. Kits will drink only beaver breastmilk for their first 2-3 weeks of life.
After this time their parents will take them on foraging trips to start solids. The first foods they will eat are soft aquatic plants and the soft cambium layer of the tree bark.
By the time the kits are around 6 weeks old, they are fully weaned on to the same diet as an adult beaver.
Do beavers eat fish?
Beavers are strict herbivores and do not eat any fish in their diet. It’s a common misconception that beavers eat fish as they live in the same environment.
Although if a beaver is starving it may eat a small amount of fish if presented the opportunity. They may give a dead fish at the water edge a nibble, but they wouldn’t eat the whole fish.
Beavers will not actively hunt and kill a fish in the water to eat.
In fact, beaver dams can be beneficial for fish such as salmon. Both species co-exist and thrive together in a mutually beneficial environment.
Do Beaver eat Meat?
Beavers eat only vegetation and do not eat any meat as part of their diet. It’s a common misconception that beavers eat meat.
This is likely due to the fact that beavers are large rodents. Other members of the rodent family such as rats and mice are opportunistic eaters and will eat fish, meat, and carrion as part of their diet.
A beaver’s digestive system is designed to eat vegetation only and eating meat would likely cause stomach upset. Beavers also do not have the instincts to prey on other animals as a food source.
Beavers are herbivores that mainly eat plant vegetation and tree bark. They will consume other foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and fungi. These foods ensure the beavers get the nutrients they need to stay healthy and thrive.
Baby beavers rely solely on beaver breastmilk for the first few weeks of life. They are quickly taught to forage for their own food and are eating the same diet as adult beavers by around 6 weeks old.
Beavers have even adapted to creating a special poo which they can re-ingest. This allows them to extract as much nutrition from the food as possible.
The variation of eating both woody and soft vegetation allows beavers to switch up their diet between seasons to survive.