Today I learned about the scent of a beaver.
I probably could end this post there, but I’m not sure how many of you are interested in typing “beaver scents” into your search engines and swimming through the results. And I don’t suppose it makes it any better if I mention that beaver scents are largely related to what’s going on around their butts.
What does it do if I tell you that beavers are vanilla-scented?
Beaver butts have a strong smell, though really, who are we to judge? In the case of beavers, their defining odor is due in part to two glands near the anus that secrete an oil called castoreum. One purpose that this pungent oil serves is to mark the animal’s territory. However, because beavers are creative builder types, their approach to territory marking is hardly as simple as “spray, delay, and walk away.” To mark their territory, they build mounds of mud and leaves that are about thirty centimeters tall and almost a meter across. Then they squat on the mounds and rub the castoreum on the surface.
Creative types, I tell you.
Castoreum oil serves an additional purpose: it makes the beaver’s fur coat water repellent. You might wonder how the castoreum gets all over the entire coat from one specific spot on the beaver’s body. The answer comes in a very particular form of grooming—the second toe on each of a beaver’s hind feet has a specialized toenail that the animal can use to comb the oil through its fur.
I don’t want to say that it seems that the beaver picks its butt.
So, hey, did you know that one of the compounds in castoreum, salicylic acid, is also an ingredient in aspirin and is one of the reasons castoreum was valued as a miracle cure all the way up through the 1700s?
Another fun fact: you know how I mentioned earlier that beavers smell like vanilla? Thanks to beavers’ plant-based diet, castoreum has an odor that’s sweet as well as musky. Researchers ran some tests on castoreum and discovered that the oil is safe for human consumption. Guess what: your all-natural vanilla flavoring is really natural.
None of this touches on how curious and industrious beavers are—they’re considered second only to humans in their ability to shape their environment to their liking. I wanted to talk about the dams beavers are famous for building, but I couldn’t get past the idea of researching beavers and wood after everything I learned about beaver scents. Beavers can go for fifteen minutes underwater without coming up for air, but I can’t go thirty seconds without laughing about the word “beaver.”
Beavers are far more focused than I am. Even if they do spend time combing their butt oil through their fur.
Your Backyard Monster