Can Beavers See in the Dark?


When I was researching if beavers make good pets, I came across several articles about the eyesight of beavers, so I wanted to share the information I found.

Beavers can see in the dark, but their eyesight is reduced at night.  Their vision is more suited to daytime activities; however, due to centuries of hunting a study shows that the beaver has adapted to become a nocturnal animal.

The information surprised me as I had always thought that beavers were nocturnal and had assumed they would be able to see better at night.  I wanted to find out why beavers would come out at night if their eyesight were better suited to the daytime. 

I found out that there were a few reasons why beavers come out at night-time instead of during the day.

If you or someone you know loves beavers then have a look at my favorite beaver gifts on Amazon.

Do Beavers see well?

Beavers have very small eyes that are black in color. Their vision is not acute and they do not see well in the day or at night-time.  Beavers are near sighted mammals and studies have shown that they can see color.

Why do beavers come out at night if their eyesight is better suited to daytime?

Scientists believe, and a study suggests that beavers are better adapted to daytime (diurnal) activities but have switched to night-time (nocturnal) activities over time to avoid humans and other prey that hunt them as prey. 

Although now the beaver population is stable and of least concern, the beaver population almost went extinct due to hunting and trapping during the 16th to the 19th century. 

Hunting controls and efforts to reintroduce the beaver in America prevented the extinction during the last century, but the study shows that this hunting had an effect on them and changed their activities to night-time. 

It is thought that there were as many as 400 million beavers when the first trappers and traders arrived, but by 1900, there were as few as 100,000.

The change to nocturnal activities has been suggested by the study in the journal Mammalian Biology that this could be the legacy of a long period of persecution beginning long ago in the Pleistocene epoch which occurred 2.6 million – 11.7 thousand years ago.  Hunters and trappers would have gone out in the daytime with hand-held weapons to hunt them.

The study points out that their night-time activities may not be optimal for the beaver for a few more reasons.  Beavers that are active during the day would lose less energy allowing the beaver to maintain its core internal temperature.  With the nights colder than the days this would be much more difficult for the beaver.

Beavers are herbivores, and their food is always available to them, so they have no reason forage during the night.

In safe environments do beavers come out during the day?

In Denali National park and preserve in Alaska, there are several predators to the beaver such as the grizzly bear, mountain lion and wolves.  However, it was found that the beavers would still work during the daytime due to the lack of humans around.   Beavers in remote areas have often been seen during the day.

Can beavers see underwater?

Although beavers have poor eyesight during the day and at night-time beavers can see while swimming underwater.  Beavers have a third eyelid, a nictitating membrane that is transparent or translucent that is drawn across the eye to protect it while diving underwater.  Several other aquatic animals have nictitating layers including manatees, crocodiles, seals, fish and some sharks.  

Do beavers eyes shine in the light?

Some animals such as dogs, cats, wolves and coyotes have superior night vision to humans which helps them to hunt at night-time.  The night vision of these and other nocturnal animals has been achieved by an extra layer of reflective tissue behind their eyes called the tapetum lucidum.  When a light is shined on them, they appear to glow green caused by the retroreflector enhancing the light.

Beavers do not have the retroreflector and cannot see well in the dark; their eyes do not reflect the light or shine in the torchlight.

Conclusion

It is easy to assume that beavers’ eyes are useful in the dark as they are nocturnal animals, but this is far from the truth.  Centuries of hunting has possibly changed the beaver from a diurnal animal to a nocturnal creature, and it is rare to see one during the day. 

In the urban dictionary ‘Beaver eyes’ is a slang term for using abnormally good eyesight to see something clearly or find something concealed.’ which could not be further from the truth.

If you or someone you know loves beavers then have a look at my favorite beaver gifts on Amazon.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

Recent Content