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Difference Between Beaver And Woodchuck


The woodchuck and the beaver belong to the same rodent species, and are closely related to the squirrel family.  Though they exhibit certain resemblance like the ever-growing teeth, gnawing habits, and ability to regulate temperature, there are a lot of differences in their habitats, breeding and feeding.  Let’s have a brief look into the basic differences between them.

The Woodchuck:

The woodchucks, otherwise called the Groundhogs, are found mostly in different parts of North America, the regions ranging from Alaska to Alabama and Georgia.  Their scientific name is Marmota monax. They belong to the group of marmots, and are one of the largest members of the squirrel family.  Though most of the marmots live in mountainous areas, the woodchucks like to live only in the lowlands.

The bodies of woodchucks are very compact and chubby.  And adult woodchuck is 20 to 27 inches long, and weighs 5 to 12 pounds.  Their legs are strong, but comparatively short.   The tail is small and hairy.  The whole body is covered with typical yellowish-brown fur.  They are herbivores.  With the help of their chisel like pointed teeth, they can gnaw and eat any kind of vegetation, garden vegetables and fruits.  They are known for their peculiar habits of feeding in the early morning and evening hours, as they need to have their water intake mainly from the dew and plant moisture.

The forefeet claws of the woodchucks are long and curved, and are capable of digging burrows in the ground.  These burrows may have 8 to 66 feet long and 2 to 5 feet deep with multiple entrances. The woodchucks use them for bearing and raising their young ones, and also to escaping from the predators like domestic dogs, hawks, foxes, humans etc.  During hibernation, the woodchucks use these dens as shelter in the winter, when heavy frosts begin sometime in October.    They leave these shelters only in February or March, when mating season starts.  The mother woodchuck gives birth to three or four young ones, after one month.   Since woodchucks love to live by their own, the young ones will leave the mother and home, in June, to find out new dens and territories. They climb trees, and sleep on rocks, timbers, and on the meadows, and restrict themselves moving too far from their dwelling place.   The woodchucks live an average life span of four to five years.

The Beaver:

The scientific name of the beaver is Castor Canadensis.   These semi-aquatic mammals are known to be the largest living rodents in North America. The Native Americans call them “Little People”. Like humans, the beavers have the skill to change their habitats according to their needs.   An adult beaver weighs above 40 pounds and has a body length of 3 feet, including the tail. The beavers are seen in rivers, streams, lakes and marshes.

The most distinct feature of the beaver is its scaled flat tail, which acts as a rudder while swimming. They use it to warn other beavers of danger by slapping it on the water surface.  The 15 inch long tail supports them to sit and stand erect.  It is scaly, and stores fat, by which they regulate the body temperature during winter.

The incisors of the beaver are hard with ability to grow throughout their lives.  Beavers are pure vegetarians, eating only woody and aquatic vegetation.  They eat shrubs, fresh leaves, grasses, twigs and stems, and also the inner barks of trees like alder, willow etc. Beavers will chew on any types of tree, but preferred species include alder, aspen, birch etc. Most often, the beavers use trees like fir and pine as their dam building material.  The presence of dams or lodges is indicative of their vibrant nature.

Unlike the woodchucks, the beavers do not hibernate.  However, they are less active in winter.  Like woodchuck and other rodents, beavers also make dens for shelter, and to escape from the predators.   The burrows built by them on river banks or lodges consist of underwater entrances, a feeding area and dry nest den.  They breed from January to March, and litter an average 4 kits through April- June. The kits will remain with the mother for two years, and then will leave them, seeking mates to live by their own in new colonies, miles away.  Each colony may have 2 to 12 individuals.  Due to their size, nature, and unique habitat, the beavers have fewer enemies, but humans.    Beavers can live for 5 to 10 years in their wild habitats.

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1 Comment

  1. From this article: “The woodchuck and the beaver belong to the same rodent species”. That’s nonsense! They don’t even belong to the same genus, let alone the same species. They do, however, both belong to the order Rodentia.

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References :

[0]Russell Link, Living with Wildlife, “Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest”, Washington Department of Fish & Wild Life. Retrieved from http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/beavers.html

[1]Woodchucks, Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet Series, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, N.Y. 2001, Cornell University. Retrieved from http://wildlifecontrol.info/pubs/Documents/Woodchucks/Woodchuck_factsheet.pdf


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