Q. Dear Twig: Do the trees beavers cut down ever fall on and squish the beavers?
A. Hardly ever, though you'd think it would happen a lot. You'd think that cutting down trees with your teeth would make the trees fall on your head, kablam! But digging through the science files turns up only two reports.
In 1953, a Vermont professor described a beaver caught and killed by a split-in-half tree trunk: "It appears that while the beaver was attempting to free the base of the trunk ... the top shifted, causing the gaping halves of the trunk to clamp vise-like the animal's head." (Ach, the poor beaver.)
In 1989, The Canadian Field-Naturalist reported a beaver crushed by a poplar tree: "The beaver may have misjudged where the tree would fall, or another beaver could have been cutting it." ("Newman!")
Fortunately, most beavers know what they're doing, have better luck or both. "Beaver deaths caused by felled trees," the second report says, "do not appear to be a common occurrence."
P.S. Beavers are rodents — the biggest in North America and the second-biggest on the planet.
Sources included "Felled Tree Kills Beaver (Castor canadensis)" by Harold B. Hitchcock, Middlebury College, Vermont, in Journal of Mammalogy, 1953; and "Beaver, Castor canadensis, Mortality Caused by Felled Trees in Alberta" by George W. Scotter and Etta Scotter, Edmonton, Alberta, The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 1989.
Twig has been vacationing in a place where beavers live and cut down trees but hasn't seen any beavers nor been clonked by any of their trees. This column first ran Jan. 22, 2006.
Big beaver props to Thornton W. Burgess. Porcupine too. Plus fox, owl, skunk, jay, you name it. The Thornton W. Burgess Society, http://www.thorntonburgess.org/.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.
Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) and with Ohio State University Extension (http://extension.osu.edu). OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691; firstname.lastname@example.org; (330) 263-3776.