Episode 245 – North American Beaver: Great Beaver Bombing

“…Today we’re talking about some rodents that make darns out of their own food. But more on that later.”

If you look up into the sky and see a box parachuting toward you, it could be a Call of Duty care package, a cargo cult’s answered prayer, or a mid-century beaver relocation project. As humans encroached on the territory of the North American Beaver, we found that these slap-happy rodents are more difficult to move than you might think. But one intrepid employee of Idaho’s Fish and Game Department was given some money, a few parachutes, and way too many green lights to solve the problem. But sometimes you gotta drop your problems into the middle of nowhere here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the North American Beaver

  • Beavers are large thick-furred and thick-bodied rodents. 
  • They are almost always brown.
  • They have broad heads with beady little eyes.
  • Their front teeth are extremely large and durable, constantly growing. 
  • Beavers have a famously flat tail that they will slap the water with to communicate. 
  • They also have webbed feet that make them adept swimmers. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at Gmail dot com. We do have a measure up intro from Melissa.

Body Length

  • 74–90 cm (29–35 in)
  • How many Beavers go into the length of the Fort Peck Dam in the Missouri River?
  • Hint: The Fort Peck Dam is the largest in the U.S. by volume with 125,628,000 cu yards of water. It was built by the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s.
  • 7,208.9 beavers. The dam is 21,026 ft (6,409 m) long.

Weight

  • 20 kg (44 lb)
  • How many buckets of bacon grease, available at Buc-ees, goes into the weight of a beaver?
  • Hint: Buc-ees is a Texas based convenience store where everything is bigger. You can buy all kinds of things from buc-ees, including jerky from about a 20 foot jerky counter, deer feeders, BBQ brisket, tents, Beaver nuggets, and savory beaver nuggets called Buc-ees Nuggees.
  • 6 buckets. You can buy a 7.3 pound bucket of bacon grease. 

Fast Facts about the North American Beaver

Beavers live in North America from Mexico to Canada. They were once more ubiquitous than they are now, but the fur trade caused their numbers to drop dramatically between the 17th and 19th century. Beaver populations were saved when people stopped being interested in fur hats.

Beavers are semi-aquatic and spend a ton of time in the water and on land. They are probably most famous for building dams or lodges, which are aquatic structures made of wood. 

Beavers eat wood, which is something that sounds like a myth but is actually true. They also eat all kinds of vegetation, including leaves, tigs, inner bark, and shoots. Their strong incisors are capable of chomping down trees, which they use to construct dams.They also use rocks, mud, and vegetation. 

Beavers are sent into a building and repair frenzy if they hear the sound of trickling water. Researchers tested this by playing a recording of trickling water in the middle of a dry field, which the beavers covered with sticks and mud. The largest dam ever discovered was 2,790 ft (850 m) long.

Watching beavers do this is adorable. 

Dams are built to maintain high water levels in an area, which floods surrounding woodlands and gives beavers more access to food sources. Beavers can move around on land just fine, but they are much faster in the water. They also dig channels that lead further into the woods from their ponds.

Beavers will carry fresh branches to their lodges and stick them in the mud deep under the dam. In winter, the surface of the pond freezes and preserves vegetation to be eaten through the winter. Because of this method, beavers don’t need to hibernate. 

A beaver lodge also contains a dry nesting chamber above the waterline. The entrance to the lodge is underwater, and difficult to access for many of the beavers’ most common predators. Winter causes snow and ice to cover the lodge creating a warm igloo-like chamber. 

They secrete a chemical from their butts that smells just like vanilla and is an FDA-approved natural vanilla flavoring in food.

Up until the 11th century, many people believed an ancient Egyptian myth that beavers knew that hunters were after the castoreum oil in their testicles and would gnaw them off. However, their bucky’s nuggies are inside their bodies and no one has ever seen a healthy beaver do this.

Major Fact: The Great Beaver Bombing of 1948

In 1948, beavers were a major problem for people in Idaho, so the state packed them into boxes and dropped them into the remote Chamberlain Basin from airplanes using old parachutes from WWII.

A Popular Mechanics article from 1949 had some baffling things to say about it.

First, they said that they couldn’t load them into a truck and drive them to the new location because “the animals often perished because they were kept away from water too long”

But beavers aren’t like axolotls, they don’t need to be covered in water to survive.

They do need to drink water, but that’s true of pretty much every animal. So I think a better solution would have been to drive them over and give them water to drink. You know, take care of the animals you’re trying to take care of.

However, a 2015 from the Boise State Public Radio mentions that the Basin is in what is now known as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, which is a protected forest. So there weren’t really any drivable roads, even to this day, which meant that transporting the beavers would require horses or mules.

The problem is that horses and mules get easily spooked by beavers for some reason, so it wasn’t really viable to haul the beavers several days into the River of No Return.

Secondly, the 1949 Popular Mechanics article talks about how a skilled mountain pilot needs to drop the boxes of beavers a few hundred feet above the ground and try to get them as close to a stream as possible.

It mentioned that a male and female are planted close together so they can start a family but I couldn’t find how the beavers got out of their boxes once they landed.

Like the aquarium fish in Finding Nemo

The Boise Radio article had an answer for this one too. Turns out, Beavers like to eat wood – like they really like to eat wood. And when eating their favorite thing coincides with gaining their freedom, a wooden box was no match. 

Like you being trapped in a Kinder Egg or a Flavor-Blasted Goldfish.

The beavers would start to eat their way out immediately and they didn’t want that happening while they were in the plane or, say, on their way to the ground like the whale in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So the guy they pegged to solve this issue, Elmo Heter, designed a special box that was weighted to break on impact.

But he needed to test it. So he found an old male beaver, named him Geronimo, put him in the box, and dropped him over and over again.

Here is a quote from Elmo “Poor fellow! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again.”

His reward was that he was the first beaver to be dropped into the River of No Return with three plucky female beavers. Like if Adam had been a Mormon.

Fortunately, only one beaver in 76 died during this insane beaver bombing.

Overall, everyone seems to consider this a success. Elmo said in his report, Transplanting Beavers: “The savings in man hours, and in the mortality of animals, is quite evident. Sex ratios are maintained. The beavers are healthier, and in better condition to establish a colony.”

Ending: So build your house upon the rock, don’t bite off your Bucky’s Nuggies beaver bits, and parachute into your own polygamous Eden like Geronimo the beaver here in LDT.

Episode 244 – Carpet Beetle: Nail Bitter

“…and today we’re talking about a carpet crunching fiber eater. But more on that later.”

Creepy crawlies in your home are never fun. What serves as a Roomba in a bird’s nest might do some serious damage to dad’s favorite chair. The carpet beetle may not be as troublesome as its breakfast-in-bed loving kin, but it can be a nuisance for fabric fans. But why does this little larva love linens and things of that nature? If you’re able to digest what others can’t, there will always be a place at the tablecloth in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 243 – Orchid Mantis: Flower Power

“…and today we’re talking about a bug that engages in more aggressive mimicry than a middle schooler repeating everything you’re saying. But more on that later.”

The year was 1879. James Hingsley was an Australian journalist who returned from his voyage to Indonesia with a strange tale on his lips. He claimed that the northern islands were populated with an evil flower that captured insects and devoured them whole. Is this a lie? A trick? An evil curse? Or a little shop of horrors plant? By no means! It’s just the work of one devout little insect known as the orchid mantis. But sometimes blending in means standing out here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 242 – Roadrunner: Running Hot

“…And today we’re talking about a bird who is a runner, she’s a track star. But more on that later.”

There are a few paths you can go down in the animal kingdom that are tried and true. Strength and power are great, but only if you can catch what you’re after. The roadrunner is famously hard to catch, just ask a coyote. But when you’re a high-performance athlete in a hot climate, it’s important to keep a cool head. Beating the heat is essential, when you’re trying to run the race of survival in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 241 – Basilisk Lizard: Walk on Water

“…and today we’re talking about a little king that is named after the king of kings. But more on that later.”

We usually use the term “walk on water” to refer to someone above reproach. But when we say that the aggressive and belligerent basilisk lizard walks on water, we don’t mean that it can do no wrong. Getting away from enemies as a little lizard can be tough, but not if you’ve got a miracle or two up your sleeve. But it’s all about staying ahead of the danger in style here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 240 – Mariana Snailfish: Good Under Pressure

“…and today we’re talking about a hole in the bottom of the sea. More on that later.”

When you’re under a lot of pressure, you may get a headache. But you’ve never been under as much pressure as the Mariana snailfish. Most things at the bottom of the ocean are invertebrates. They live the squishy life. But our friends the snailfish is boney, and they need some interesting genes to survive in the deepest parts of the ocean. It just goes to show that those who thrive under pressure are right for the job in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 239 – Driver Ant: Snitches are Stitches

“…and today we’re talking about a small soldier. But more on that later.”

When you’re out in the wilds of the African bushland, you need to get creative when it comes to emergency wound care. One species of ant has a bite so powerful, it can be used to stave off infection. The true villain of Indiana Jones 4, the driver ant is truly a mini muncher with mighty medicinal mandibles. But having the jaws of life permanently attached to your face is a great way to survive as an ant here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 238 – Lanternfish: The Sea Wall

“…today we’re talking about this little fish of mine. But more on that later.”

When twilight comes, it’s time to light your lantern. But sometimes human technology isn’t enough to get past nature’s barriers. That was the case when early sonar came up against the lanternfish, which congregates in the millions. This tiny mesopelagic creature bioluminates the twilight zone, following the gray haze up and down with the turning of the earth. But following the light is one way to find food in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.  

Episode 237 – Japanese Macaque: Pink Parka People

“…and today we’re talking about petite pink primates in plush parkas. But more on that later.”

In the highlands of Japan, one tufty monkey likes to season its food, play in the snow, and waylay unsuspecting people in its free time. It uses all of its simian smarts to quickly learn new behaviors and then use them against their human interlopers. But being a pink-faced eskimo in a cold climate means you need to use every means at your disposal to survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 236 – Hammerhead Flatworm: I Will Survive

“…and today we’re talking about a flat slimy menace that will not go gently into the night. But more on that later.”

Have you ever felt that you just don’t fit in. Struggling to make connections with a social group can be difficult, but what if you’re clashing with an entire ecosystem. Such is the plight of an invasive species. The hammerhead flatworm comes from lands far off, but it may be making a home in your backyard, eating something that you might take for granted. But sometimes the most resilient creatures overstay their welcome in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.