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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Wildlife Resources > Animals > Beaver Beaver

Beavers (Castor canadensis) were once rare in Indiana due to overharvest but are now abundant. In 1935, the Indiana Department of Conservation obtained a few breeding pairs from Wisconsin and released them on Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. As the population grew, some moved into adjacent counties while others were trapped and released in other parts of the state. Presently, beaver are found in almost every county.beaver

General Characteristics

Physical Characteristics
  • The beaver is the largest rodent in North America.
  • Its appearance is similar to that of a large muskrat with a broad, flattened tail.
  • Most adults weigh between 30 and 70 pounds and measure about 4 feet long.
  • Like other rodents, the beaver’s front teeth (incisors) grow throughout its life. The back of their incisors is softer than the front so that when they gnaw, the teeth are constantly sharpened.
  • The beaver's front feet are adept at digging, grooming and carrying objects.
  • Their large hind feet are webbed for swimming.
  • A unique feature is that the second toenail of each hind foot is double or split and is used as a comb to groom their fur.
Behavioral Characteristics
  • The tail is used for many functions but is seldom used a trowel for carrying mud. The tail is used as a rudder and to propel the beaver while swimming. It also supports the body when cutting trees. When startled the beaver smacks its tail on the water, alerting others in the area of possible danger.
  • Beavers dive under water to escape danger and can remain submerged for up to six minutes.
  • These “engineers of the wilderness” are best known for cutting trees and building dams. When cutting a tree, a beaver turns its head sideways and anchors its upper teeth into the tree. Then, by bringing up its lower teeth and twisting its head, the beaver tears out a large chip. It continues working around the tree until the tree topples. Although all beavers are capable of building lodges, most in Indiana build a modified bank burrow. One of two tunnels leads from below water level up into the bank to a nest chamber above water level. The nest chamber is about 2 feet high and 4 to 6 feet in diameter. Frequently, a pile of interlaced sticks and branches mixed with mud is placed on top of the bank directly above the nest chamber.

Similar Species

Distribution and Abundance

During the 1950s, the principal beaver range was the Kankakee River and Tippecanoe River drainage systems. Now, more than 8,000 miles of flowing water and thousands of acres of lakes and ponds are available in Indiana for beavers.

Beavers have few enemies and predation is limited primarily to man. Because they live in small, isolated colonies and are intolerant of newcomers, disease is not spread and has very little effect in depressing population growth. It is estimated that without control, the beaver population would increase by about one-third each year.

Food Habits

Beavers are strict vegetarians.two beavers

Winter foods:

  • Bark and twigs of trees and other woody plants. Before winter arrives, beaver eagerly fell trees. Each branch is clipped from the main log, cut in appropriate size and then stashed under water in a large brush pile.
  • When ice covers the water surface, food is readily available by swimming from the lodge to the brush pile.

Spring and summer foods:

  • Leafy parts and roots of aquatic plants, including cattails, duck potatoes, water lilies, spadderdock, grasses and sedges.
  • Beavers are also very fond of young blackberry canes, and when cornfields are nearby, large quantities of corn may also be eaten.

Management and Control

Due to their small size, lack of rich color, fur coarseness and heavy hide, Indiana beaver lack the qualities sought by the fur industry. Only a small portion of the state harvest is used by furriers. About 30 to 40 percent are used for partially-furred garments such as pieced coats, hats and gloves. Less than 10 percent are used in high-fashion apparel. Demand for Indiana beaver is low and average pelt prices seldom exceed $10. Low prices combined with the amount of time required to properly skin, flesh and stretch the hide produce very little incentive for trappers to trap beaver.

Although beaver harvest has steadily increased, it is not indicative of the economic demand placed upon the resource. Instead, it is in response to the beaver's increasing availability and attempts by landowners to remove nuisance beavers during the legal season. At present, the owner or tenant of any property may take without permit during the closed season any beaver discovered damaging property.

A beaver dam is not where a beaver lives. It is simply a mass of woody debris that may be able to be removed without a permit from the DNR, depending on its location and the equipment to be used. Get an outline of permit requirements. Be sure to obtain permission from the property owner(s) if the dam is on property other than your own