Were you as surprised as I was to learn that there are beavers in the Las Vegas Wash? What’s the state mammal of Oregon and New York doing in a desert place like this? North America’s largest rodent, the beaver is generally thought of as a riparian dweller, not a creature at home in a Mojave waterway flush with treated wastewater, dissolved pharmaceuticals, and lawn runoff.
But, in fact, beavers — which have been in North America for at least 7 million years — have lived in the Colorado River system for a long time. Back in 2001, a UNLV grad student reported finding 26 beaver ponds in a 19-mile stretch of the Las Vegas Wash; as many as 80 reportedly now live in the Wetlands Park.
Beavers grow to be up to 70 pounds; their famous wood-shredding front teeth are, perhaps oddly, orange, and they are reclusive and not particularly aggressive, which may explain why no local high school has picked this animal as its mascot. They do have a luxurious, two-layer coat, which Americans of a different era and headwear sensibility prized for hatmaking. Wikipedia: “Demand for furs for hats drove beavers nearly to the point of extinction, and the North American species was saved principally by a sudden change in style.” Yay, fashion?