HOME · Biodiversity
animals

2 Types of Beavers: Species, Indentification, and Photos

Beavers, renowned for their impressive dam-building skills and front teeth, epitomize adaptability in often harsh environments. While there may only be two types of beavers, their diversity illustrates nature's marvel in adaptation. This article examines their distinguishing characteristics, thriving habitats, and behaviors that set them apart. Read on to learn more.

General Information about Beavers

beaver
Photo by National Park Service on Rawpixel.

Beavers are hardworking semi-aquatic rodents. They are the second-largest rodents in the world after capybaras. They can gnaw through trees using their large, sharp teeth fortified with iron-enriched enamel. Moreover, they have webbed hind feet that can help them swim.

Beavers inhabit areas with abundant vegetation, such as rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. They can even transform their environment to suit their needs by building beaver dams using woven sticks, grass, and moss held together with mud. The dams create beaver ponds, homes for beavers, and other aquatic creatures like waterfowl or fish.

As a keystone species, the beaver boosts biodiversity by constructing ponds and wetlands1, leading to an influx of aquatic plants in the new habitats. This environmental transformation increases the diversity of insects, invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds.

Unfortunately, their populations have declined due to hunting for beaver pelts and the oily substance they secrete called castoreum, which is an ingredient in perfumes and medicines. Some people also eat beaver meat. Conservation efforts have helped stabilize their populations in many regions.

Read more: Beaver Facts.

Beaver Classification

Beavers belong to the Castoridae family under the Rodentia order. This family has only one genus, Castor, which includes only two species: the North American Beaver and the Eurasian Beaver. 

The North American Beaver inhabits North America but avoids the extremes of Canada and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Eurasian Beaver once roamed Europe and Asia, but habitat loss and hunting have significantly reduced its territory. 

Learn to differentiate these two types of beaver species in the following sections.

2 Types of Beavers

1. North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)

north american beaver
Photo by Ryan Hodnett on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The North American Beaver, also known as the Canadian beaver, is the largest rodent species in North America. Adult beavers can weigh from 30 to 70 pounds. They have a flat, paddle-shaped tail, which helps them balance while chopping down trees and also warns others in case of danger. 

They live from the Arctic region to northern Mexico. Equipped with waterproof fur coats that range from deep brown to red, they stay warm in their watery habitats. 

They have sharp and continuously growing teeth, ideal for their wood-based diet. They also use sticks, mud, and stones to build dams, an impressive feat of natural engineering. This beaver dam becomes a beaver lodge where they store food for winter. It also helps limit erosion and decrease turbidity, promoting increased aquatic life. But once a beaver pond becomes too shallow, the beavers abandon it.

The IUCN gave North American Beavers the least concern status2. Widespread and abundant, especially in protected areas, they maintain stable populations. Despite this, they face challenges due to human conflict from tree-felling and dam-building and are highly sensitive to a bacterial disease called tularemia. They are additionally hunted for their pelt, but regulations keep this to a minimum.

2. Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber)

eurasian beaver
Photo by NasserHalaweh on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Eurasian Beaver lives in Europe and Asia, ranging from the UK and Scandinavia to the remote areas of western Siberia and Mongolia. It exhibits region-specific fur colors. For instance, Belarus' beavers sport a light chestnut shade, while Russian counterparts display a blackish-brown tone.

Acting as a keystone species, this type of beaver supports their environment extensively. They create wetlands, which are home to a diverse range of creatures. Plus, their dam-building is vital in improving water quality and increasing aquatic life cover.

Typically herbivores, Eurasian beavers feast predominantly on aquatic and riverside plant varieties, supplemented by softwood tree bark when necessary.

Despite being hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 20th century due to the meat and fur trade, Eurasian beavers bounced back through extensive conservation efforts. With the global population once estimated at around 1,200, successful conservation saw their numbers rise and reach a status of least concern by 20083. Today, Europe houses the largest population, while Asian populations bear sizable threats and remain fragmented.

Main Difference Between The American And Eurasian Beavers

While similar, American and Eurasian beavers exhibit a few distinctive differences. American beavers are generally smaller, with more rounded heads, shorter and wider muzzles, and thicker and longer underfur. 

Their tails are broader and more oval, and longer shin bones grant better bipedal mobility. They have shorter nasal bones and square-shaped nasal openings, contrasting with the triangular ones of the Eurasian beavers, and possess smaller anal glands. 

Predominantly, American beavers have paler brown fur, while Eurasian ones exhibit more beige tones.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the two types of beaver species?

There are two kinds of beaver species globally: the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). 

2. What is the difference between American and Eurasian beaver?

American beavers are marginally smaller than their Eurasian counterparts. They have more rounded heads, shorter and wider noses, and longer, darker underfur. Their tails are more oval, and their shin bones are lengthier, enabling better bipedal movement. Fur color also varies, with American beavers displaying more diversity.

3. Can American and European beavers breed?

No, American and European beavers can't breed. The two species, with 40 and 48 chromosomes, respectively, are not genetically compatible.

1

Rosell, F., Bozsér, O., Collen, P., & Parker, H. (2005). Ecological impact of beavers Castor fiber and Castor canadensis and their ability to modify ecosystems. Mammal Review, 35(3–4), 248–276.

2

Cassola, F. (2016). Castor canadensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T4003A22187946. 

3

Batbold, J., Batsaikhan, N., Shar, S., Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N., Mitsainas, G. & Palomo, L. (2021). Castor fiber (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T4007A197499749. 

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by GlacierNPS on Flickr (Public Domain).
Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait 2 Types of Beavers: Species, Indentification, and Photos
Sign Up for Updates
SIGN UP