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Why Do Beavers Cut Down Trees?

When you think of beavers, you probably think of the impressive dams they build out of logs and tree branches. Are these dams the only reason beavers chew on wood? Exactly why do beavers cut down trees, how do they do it, and how do they move the trees where they want them to go? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.

Can a Beaver Cut Down a Tree?

can a beaver cut down a tree

Beavers are known for chewing through wood, then hauling the logs off to build their dams and lodges. But can they take down full, mature trees, or do they stick to saplings and fallen branches?

Beavers are incredible creatures. They can cut down trees of all sizes–in fact, according to River Keepers, they commonly cut down trees as large as 33 inches in diameter.

Though they seem to prefer smaller trees, beavers will cut down large trees when the smaller ones have been all used up in an area. They will only travel about 100 feet from the water in their search for trees.

Do Beavers Cut Down Trees With Their Teeth?

Yes, beavers use their teeth to gnaw through the wood. They have very strong teeth coated with a hard orange enamel. 

Beavers don’t just chew on trees to cut them down.

A beaver’s teeth never stop growing, so they need to keep gnawing on trees to keep their teeth from getting too long. Gnawing on trees keeps their teeth sharp, strong, and healthy.

How Fast Can a Beaver Cut Down a Tree?

Beavers work incredibly fast. Even large trees are no match for their strong teeth, as they can cut through a single tree in as little as 5 to 15 minutes depending on the tree’s size.

Smaller trees may take even less time than that. If a beaver has nothing but small saplings to work with, the task may only take a couple of minutes per tree.

Of course, very large trees may take longer. The beavers in the following video spent over 3 weeks working to bring down a single tree.

How Many Trees Can a Beaver Cut Down?

There’s no way to tell exactly how many trees a beaver can take down in a given amount of time. It will depend on a number of factors including:

  • The size of the tree.
  • Whether the tree is alive or dead.
  • The type of tree (hardwoods will take longer than softwoods).
  • The tree’s location (whether or not it is hard for the beaver to reach).

Speaking in generalities, most beavers could conceivably cut down 1 to 5 trees in a day, perhaps more if they are only saplings. In a year, a single beaver may be able to take out as many as 300 trees.

How Does a Beaver Know Which Tree to Cut Down?

The short answer? It doesn’t.

A beaver’s selection of trees appears to be completely random. Beavers may choose live or partially dead trees and generally aren’t too picky as long as the trees are close to their home water source.

Of course, as mentioned above, beavers do seem to prefer smaller trees because they take less time and effort to cut down. Once all the smaller trees in their area have been used up, they’ll start working on the larger trees.

Does a Beaver Know Which Way the Tree Will Fall?

does a beaver know which way a tree will fall

There is mixed evidence in this regard. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there is significant reason to believe that beavers chew the tree in specific patterns to make it fall in a certain direction. 

For example, if a beaver is trying to make the tree fall downhill toward a body of water, it will chew around the tree in a diagonal pattern, with the higher angle of the cut being uphill and the lower angle facing the water.

This behavior could simply be based on instinct or the natural movement of the beaver as it chews the tree. 

But whether they can intentionally drop a tree in a specific direction or not, beavers are able to hear when a tree is starting to fall. The sounds of the wood cracking may give them clues about the direction the tree will fall, and the beaver will simply waddle out of the way as the tree topples.

How Do Beavers Move Trees?

Beavers are large rodents, but they don’t appear particularly large or strong, so it’s hard to imagine a single beaver dragging a large, mature tree through the forest. Right?

Beavers can move as much as their own body weight, but not much more. This gives them the ability to drag saplings and medium-sized branches, but not fully grown trees.

To move larger trees, beavers have to section them into smaller pieces, cutting them down to size until each section is light enough for them to move. If the tree is large enough, it may take several beavers in one family working on it over a period of days or weeks.

Once the tree has been divided into smaller sections, the beaver will grab each section in its mouth, dragging them one at a time to wherever it plans to use them–usually a lodge or a dam.

Why Do Beavers Chew Big Trees?

Beavers don’t prefer chewing on larger trees, but they will use whatever is available to them.

If they’ve used up all of the smaller trees and saplings in their area, they will resort to using bigger trees. The bigger trees take much longer to chew through and may require the help of several beavers in a colony.

Beavers may also chew on trees, both large and small, to remove some of the bark or cambium layer for food. In these cases, the beavers are not trying to take the tree down; they are simply chewing on it.

Conclusion

Beavers cut down trees to build dams and lodges. They have exceptionally strong teeth that grow continuously and need to be maintained by regularly chewing on trees.

It takes much longer for beavers to cut down large trees, but they have been known to take down trees over 30 inches in diameter.

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