The beaver is Florida's largest rodent, normally weighing 30 to 50 pounds. They have heavily muscled bodies covered with glossy brown fur with a dense grayish underfur. Beavers have large, orange-yellow, chisel-like incisor teeth and powerful jaw muscles. The back feet are webbed for swimming and the broad flat tail is used as a rudder or propeller.
The beaver thrives throughout the Florida panhandle and upper peninsula in streams, rivers, swamps or lakes that have an ample supply of trees. Through dam building, beavers create habitat for nesting wood ducks, migratory waterfowl, otters, turtles and fish. The ponds created by dams also provide beavers with deep water where they can find protection from predators — entrances to dens or lodges are usually underwater. Some beavers in Florida do not build the massive stick lodges associated with northern colonies. Instead, they are more likely to live in deep dens in stream banks, usually as a pair with their offspring from two breeding seasons.
These mammals excel at swimming, felling trees and building dams. Most trees cut by beavers are one to six inches in diameter, but the animals leave their mark on a wide variety of trees and shrubs, feeding on the inner bark and tender shoots and twigs. Roots, grasses, sedges, ferns and other water plants comprise the remainder of their diet. They can close their nostrils and ears when underwater, have transparent eyelids that cover the eyes like goggles, and can stay below the surface for up to 15 minutes. The tail may be slapped on the surface of the water as a warning to intruders.
Beavers are primarily nocturnal, so it is not common to see one. You are far more likely to see beaver sign — a stump or branch chewed to a point, like an oversized pencil, or a beaver dam.
Beginning in the late 1700s, beavers were the most intensively and widely sought natural resource of the continent, largely due to the European demand for beaver pelt hats. Few beavers were left in North America by the late 1800s. Through restocking and other conservation and management practices in the 1900s, populations have rebounded throughout the continent.