Oregon Focus: State Symbols: Animal
About the beaver
The legislature in 1969 officially named the beaver as Oregon's state animal.
The beaver is found in most of the larger streams and rivers in Oregon and in high mountain lakes. Laws protected the beaver after overtrapping in Oregon's early days took a tremendous toll on the then abundant population. Trappers were supplying a booming trade in beaver skins for markets in Europe and the eastern United States seeking stylish top hats and similar products. Beavers in the Northwest were large -- averaging 60 inches from tip to tip and had a fine-haired pelt. The skins were valued at $2.50 to $4 each in 1834, and the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver alone received 98,288 skins that year. Beaver pelt served as currency among Native Americans, trappers, and traders at the time.
The beaver is the largest of the North American rodents. It has a broad, flat tail, and large, fully webbed hind feet. The toes are strong with long nails, one notched to serve as a combing claw. The front feet are handlike, unwebbed with claws adapted for digging. The beaver's short powerful legs make it a graceful swimmer, but on land it is slow and awkward. It has small beady eyes that are protected from injury by a transparent membrane. Its hearing is very keen even though its ears are small. Valves in its ears can be closed to keep out water. The beaver's front teeth, which grow continually, are long and sharp. Constant use keeps them from becoming too long. Its lips can be closed behind the teeth so it can gnaw underwater.
Beaver dams create ponds that retain water during the hot, dry summer and provide habitat for many species of wildlife.
Suggestions for teachers
Ask students to:
Discuss why the beaver was chosen as the state animal. Write stories and draw pictures.
Listen to stories about the beaver's habitat and the way it lives.
Draw pictures of beaver dams and houses.
View the state flag with a beaver on the reverse.
Discuss why beavers were in great demand in the 1800s, how they almost went extinct, and why they were later protected.
Visit a beaver pond if one is nearby. Look for wood that is gnawed by a beaver and shows tooth marks.
Invite a naturalist to talk to the class about beavers.
Learn more about beavers on the Web. Assign topics to research, such as habitat, dam building, benefits and disruption by dams, lodges, and commercial use.