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Illustration by Dushan Milic

Stamped into history

Canada's first stamp - the Three Penny Beaver of 1851 - bore the image of our iconic animal, trumping the Queen.

A Canadian icon

The beaver officially became Canada's national symbol in 1975 in a hasty move to prevent New York State from stealing first rights to Castor canadensis as its own animal symbol.

The nickel

As a mascot, the round-bellied, flat-tailed rodent has been stamped into the nickel, worn into war and emblazoned on numerous coats of arms. But the beaver's first national claim to fame is that it helped to create Canada by being hunted nearly to extinction.

World record

The world's largest beaver dam, in Alberta's Wood Buffalo National Park, was discovered using Google Earth. Estimated at 850 metres long, it took 40 years and several generations of beavers to build it.

Giant ancestor

Think the little guy is a pest? Be grateful that its ancestor, the giant beaver, which rivalled the size of the bear and weighed up to 220 pounds, went extinct 8,000 years ago.

Not so eager

"Beavers are no more keen on unnecessary work than humans," says Duncan Halley, a beaver expert in Norway. But on that score, the Canadian beaver is definitely more industrious than its easygoing European brother.

Dam facts

Most beaver dams are built to regulate water temperature and don't serve as lodges. The typical dam may remain for only a year.

Look out for that tree

Timber! Other than angry cottagers, the beaver doesn't have many natural predators these days, now that wearing them has gone out of fashion. But occasionally they are done in by their own hard work - and get squashed by the trees they're chewing down.

Deceiving beavers

Trap one beaver family, and another will inevitable move in. But beavers build dams where they hear running water, so devices have been designed to reduce the noise with pipe and fencing around culverts to prevent the flooding of roads and farmland. The animals also don't climb very well, so fencing trees tends to stop beaver activity.

Big-screen heroes

Don't envy the elegant bald eagle or the regal British lion. Canada's national animal is hard-working, ambitious and devoted to family. Portly perhaps, it is a fierce defender of its territorial rights. For big-screen examples: Think of the brave beavers of Narnia who save the day. Not the stuffed puppet who talks crazy to Mel Gibson.

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