Monday, October 12, 2009

Snow is on and somebody is home

My two brothers-in-law and I are hunting moose this week and we're seeing a great many impressive beaver houses around the lake.

This one is about six feet tall and has a large feedbed in front. The feedbed is composed of aspen, willow and birch and will serve as food all winter for the beavers inside. They swim through underwater tunnels from the house out to the feedbed, grab a stick and haul it back inside to eat. All of this will be under the ice of course. Incidentally, this activity of beavers moving to and fro prevents the ice from freezing deeply in the area between house and feedbed. Never walk on the ice right up to a beaver house as you are in danger of falling through, even when the ice is three feet thick on the rest of the lake.

Besides the large size and feedbed of this house, you can also tell there are many beaver inside by the melted spot on the top. This is known as the "chimney" and is caused by the body heat of the beavers inside escaping out the top of the house. The bigger the chimney the more beaver are inside. There are a bunch in this place.
Some of these houses may hold a dozen beaver and several dozen muskrats. The 'rats are believed to like the houses because they offer protection from otters (beavers would kill any otter than made the mistake of coming into the house) and the beavers seem to tolerate their smaller rodent cousins perhaps because their body heat is welcome and they don't compete for food. Muskrats eat roots of aquatic plants which they must find under the ice.
Muskrats, beavers and otters have a way of breathing under the ice that extends their distance from open holes and houses. They place their nostrils against the bottom of the ice when they exhale and their exhaled breath forms a bubble which they can then rebreath. (We only consume a portion of the oxygen in each breath. It's the same for all creatures.) They create these "filling stations" of oxygen to create under-ice travel corridors.

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