Giant Rats
by Linda M. Everhart

I do my best to keep my house clean and free of rodents that could destroy it. The forest, rivers, lakes and marshes around it, are home to a large variety of plants, animals and people like me. Beaver make their home here, too. They are the largest rodents in Missouri, weighing in at 40 to 60 pounds.

Beaver are the Giant Rats of the wilderness. Instead of table scraps and pet food, Beaver feed on plants, tree buds, tender bark and young twigs. Instead of gnawing the walls of your house, Beaver can take down entire trees.

A few beaver in the area are fine ... and we're all very happy to have them. But, there's one big problem that only humans can help solve. When too many beaver move in, they can literally eat themselves, and everyone else that lives here, out of house and home.

Beaver teeth are like chisels that continue to grow all through their life. To keep them short enough, and sharp enough ... a beaver must gnaw on wood to wear them down.

In shallow water, beaver build dens of sticks and mud. In deep lakes they make burrows into the bank. They keep their dens safe from intruders by putting the entrance on the bottom of the marsh or lake.

In streams and rivers, they build dams to keep the water deep enough to cover their front doors. These dams can cause flooding that can also destroy the neighborhood.

We don't see beaver much during the day. They're busy working the nightshift. On land they are clumsy and slow, so they use waterways to travel from place to place.

It's easy to tell where beaver have been. Besides the obvious dens, dams and downed trees, you may find chewed sticks, claw prints and worn down paths between waterways.

To catch a giant rat, you need a giant rat trap, like a conibear. These traps have nothing to do with bears. They are named after Fred Conibear, the man who invented them many years ago.

But don't try this at home. Only experienced trappers know how to use them safely. And even the experts take extreme care when handling them.

The traps are set in the underwater paths the beaver use when traveling, and will spring when the beaver hits the trigger.

If beaver take down all the trees in the neighborhood, they have to find another home, along with all the other animals that used the trees for food and protection. But in areas where beaver populations are controlled by trapping, the habitat has a chance to recover.

So next time you're admiring a beautiful tree along a flowing creek ... you might take a moment to thank a Missouri trapper for keeping this place safe from the giant rats we call beaver.