From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Castoroides ohioensis)

Giant beavers
Temporal range: Late Pliocene - Late Pleistocene, 3–0.011 Ma
Castoroides ohioensis specimen at the Field Museum
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Castoridae
Subfamily: Castoroidinae
Tribe: Castoroidini
Genus: Castoroides
Foster, 1838
Type species
Castoroides ohioensis

Castoroides ohioensis
Castoroides dilophidus

  • Castoroides nebrascensis Barbour, 1931[1]
  • Burosor efforsorius Starrett, 1956[1]

Castoroides (Latin: "beaver" (castor), "like" (oides)[2]), or giant beaver, is an extinct genus of enormous, bear-sized beavers that lived in North America during the Pleistocene. Two species are currently recognized, C. dilophidus in the Southeastern US and C. ohioensis in the rest of its range. C. leiseyorum was previously described from the Irvingtonian of Florida, but is now regarded as an invalid name. All specimens previously described as C. leiseyorum are considered to belong to C. dilophidus.


Species of Castoroides were much larger than modern beavers. Their average length was approximately 1.9 m (6.2 ft), and they could grow as large as 2.2 m (7.2 ft). The weight of the giant beaver could vary from 90 kg (198 lb) to 125 kg (276 lb). This makes it the largest known rodent in North America during the Pleistocene and the largest known beaver.[3] Recent analyses suggest that they weighed less, closer to 77 kg (170 lb), but this is disputable.[4]

The hind feet of the giant beaver were much larger than in modern beavers, while the hind legs were shorter. The tail was longer and may not have been paddle-shaped as in modern beavers.[1] It can only be assumed that its feet were webbed as in modern species.[3][5] The skull structure of the giant beaver suggests that it participated in extended underwater activity, thanks to the ability to take more oxygen into its lungs.[5]

One of the defining characteristics of the giant beaver was their incisors, which differed in size and shape from those of modern beavers. Modern beavers have incisor teeth with smooth enamel, while the teeth of the giant beaver had a striated, textured enamel surface.[6] Their teeth were also much larger, up to 15 cm (6 in) long.[6]

One other major difference between the giant beaver and the modern beaver is that the size of its brain was proportionally smaller. As a result, the giant beaver may have had inferior interactions in its environment, as well as less complex patterns of thoughts and behavior.[7][failed verification]


There are two known species:

  • Castoroides dilophidus (found in Florida and the southeastern states only)
  • Castoroides ohioensis, synonym Castoroides nebrascensis (found throughout continental United States and Canada)

These two species of giant beaver (genus Castoroides) are not close relatives to modern beavers (genus Castor).[5]

This genus typifies the extinct subfamily Castoroidinae, which forms a North American lineage beginning with the Hemingfordian genus Monosaulax, followed by Eucastor, Dipoides, and Procastoroides, to finally culminate and go extinct with Castoroides.[8]

Discovery and species[edit]

A cast of C. ohioensis assembled from various specimens

Castoroides fossils were first discovered in 1837 in a peat bog in Ohio,[6] hence the species epithet ohioensis. Catalogue no.1195, Mus. North. Ind. Hist. Soc. Well-preserved skull of Castoroides ohioensis but with the mandibles lost, both zygomatic arches missing, and the facial portions of the maxillae broken away; dental series complete and in good condition.[9] Castoroides had cutting teeth up to 15 cm-long with prominently-ridged outer surfaces. These strong enamel ridges would have acted as girders to support such long teeth. Further, the deep masseteric fossa of the lower jaw suggests a very powerful bite. Perhaps their teeth could have acted as both wood-cutters and gouges. There is no clear evidence that the giant beaver felled trees or built dams, but a possible lodge was discovered near New Knoxville, Ohio around 1912. Part of a giant beaver skull and the lodge were located in a peaty layer surrounded by loam.[10] In Ohio, there have been claims of a possible giant beaver lodge four feet high and eight feet in diameter, formed from small saplings.[6] The recent discovery of clear evidence for lodge building in the related genus Dipoides indicates that the giant beaver probably also built lodges.[11] Remains of the giant beaver, along with Paleo Indian artifacts and the remains of the flat-headed peccary, giant short-faced bear, and the stag moose were found in the Sheriden Cave in Wyandot County, Ohio.[12]

Skeleton in Minnesota Science Museum

Fossils of Castoroides are concentrated around the midwestern United States in states near the Great Lakes, particularly Illinois and Indiana, but specimens are recorded from Alaska and Canada to Florida. In Canada, fossils of this species are commonly found in the Old Crow Basin, Yukon, and single specimens are known from Toronto, Ontario and Indian Island, New Brunswick. A hitherto overlooked 1891 record of a Castoroides skull from near Highgate, Ontario is the earliest for Canada.[13] In Old Crow region, Castoroides fossils occur in deposits of the Sangamonian interglacial.[14]

The discovery of giant beaver remains in New Brunswick adds significantly to the Quaternary terrestrial mammal fauna of New Brunswick, and suggests that the terrestrial fauna was probably richer than earlier evidence indicated. The known North American distribution of giant beaver is not significantly changed by this occurrence.[1][15] Specimens from the southeastern US have been placed in a separate species, Castoroides dilophidus, based on differences in premolar and molar features.[16] Martin (1969) considered it a subspecies, but new research by Hulbert et al. place them in their own species, Castoroides dilophidus., It is recorded from more than 25 Pleistocene localities in Florida, 23 of Rancholabrean age, one possibly of Irvingtonian age, and one of late Blancan age.[17]

Castoroides dilophidus specimens have been unearthed in Florida and South Carolina. The latter site (Cooper River) was dated at 1.8 million—11,000 years ago. The Castoroides leiseyorum was named by S. Morgan and J. A. White in 1995 for the Leisey shell pit.[18][19] Specimens were found in Leisey Shell Pit 1A and 3B, Hillsborough County, Florida, in paleontological sites about 2.1 Mya.[20][21][22] These specimens are now considered to belong to C. dilophidus, C. leiseyorum is no longer a valid species name. Specimens were also found at the Strawberry Hill site, (Cooper River dredging) Charleston County, South Carolina from about 1.8 Mya to 11,000 years ago.[23]


Mounted skeleton

Castoroides went extinct during the Pleistocene–Holocene Transition 12,800–11,500 years ago, alongside several other iconic North American Pleistocene megafauna, including mammoths, mastodons and steppe bisons. This roughly coincides with the arrival of the Clovis people in the region—who rapidly colonized the area by 12,800 years ago—as well the beginning of an aridity trend. It has been long debated if humans ("overkill hypothesis") or climate change had a bigger effect in the extinction event, but they took several thousands of years to completely die out.[24][25][26] There is no conclusive evidence that humans hunted Castoroides.[6] Castoroides disappeared from Alaska and the Yukon about 18,000 years ago following the Last Glacial Maximum.[27]

Interaction with humans[edit]

Little is known for certain about human interactions with Castoroides. Remains of Castoroides are found along with human artefacts in Sheriden Cave. Differing scientific theories exist considering whether the extinction of Castoroides was due to hunting or not by the early human arrivals in the Americas. First Nations such as the Innu and Mississaugas feature giant beaver in their traditional mythology, of which some Nation members believe is evidence of human interaction with Castoroides.[28][29]

In 1972, American ethnologist Jane Beck hypothesized C. ohioensis was the basis of an Algonquin myth where a gargantuan beaver created a dam so high on the Saint John River, the lake behind it almost reached the sea. The dam was struck down by the popular heroic figure Glooscap with his axe, creating the Reversing Falls. Glooscap chased the monster upstream, creating several islands in the river while attempting to strike the beaver through the ice. The beaver constructed another dam which created the Great Lakes, and fled through these to the land beyond.[30]

Several versions of an Anishinaabe story tell of "giant beavers" who "walked upright and stood as tall as the tallest man."[31] Many scholars believe that stories like these could be evidence of North American indigenous peoples encountering C. ohioensis or, at the very least, their fossils. [32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kurtén, B. and E. Anderson (1980). Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press. pp. 236–237. ISBN 978-0-231-03733-4.
  2. ^ "Glossary. American Museum of Natural History". Archived from the original on 20 November 2021.
  3. ^ a b Swinehart, Anthony L.; Richards, Ronald L. (2001). "Paleoecology of Northeast Indiana Wetland Harboring Remains of the Pleistocene Giant Beaver (Castoroides Ohioensis)". Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. 110: 151. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  4. ^ Grayson, Donald (2011-04-18). The Great Basin: A Natural Prehistory. ISBN 9780520267473.
  5. ^ a b c "Giant Beaver: Natural History Notebooks". Canadian Museum of Nature. 2011-05-02. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e Harrington, C.R. (1996). "Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center – Giant Beaver". Archived from the original on 2007-09-14. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  7. ^ Canadian Museum of Nature, Notebooks: Giant Beaver
  8. ^ Korth, William W (1994). The Tertiary record of rodents in North America. Springer. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-306-44696-2.
  9. ^ Engels, William L. (1931). "Two new records of the Pleistocene beaver, Castoroides ohioensis". American Midland Naturalist. 12 (12): 529–532. doi:10.2307/2420204. JSTOR 2420204.
  10. ^ Miller, R.F.; Harington C.R.; Welch, R. (2000). "A giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis Foster) fossil from New Brunswick, Canada". Atlantic Geology. 36 (1): 1–5. doi:10.4138/1982.
  11. ^ Rybczynski, N. (2007). "Castorid phylogenetics: implications for the evolution of swimming and tree-exploitation in beavers". Journal of Mammalian Evolution. 14 (1): 1–35. doi:10.1007/s10914-006-9017-3. S2CID 33659669.
  12. ^ Brian G. Redmond, PhD., Curator of Archaeology (March 2006). "Before the Western Reserve: An Archaeological History of Northeast Ohio" (PDF). The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. p. 2. Retrieved January 28, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Harington, C.R. (2007). "Giant Beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, remains in Canada and an overlooked report from Ontario". Canadian Field-Naturalist. 121 (3): 330–333. doi:10.22621/cfn.v121i3.486.
  14. ^ Harington, C.R. (1977). Pleistocene mammals of the Yukon Territory (Ph.D thesis). Edmonton: University of Alberta. 1060 pp.
  15. ^ Miller, R.F.; Harington C.R.; Welch, R. (2000). "A giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis Foster) fossil from New Brunswick, Canada". Steinhammer Palaeontology Lab. 36 (1): 1–5. doi:10.4138/1982.
  16. ^ Martin, R.A. (1969). "Taxonomy of the giant Pleistocene beaver Castoroides from Florida". Journal of Paleontology. 43 (4): 1033–1041.
  17. ^ Martin, Robert A. (1969). "Taxonomy of the giant Pleistocene beaver Castoroides from Florida". Journal of Paleontology. 43 (4): 1033–1041.
  18. ^ Morgan, G.S.; J.A. White (1995). "Small mammals (Insectivora, Lagomorpha, and Rodentia) from the early Pleistocene (Irvingtonian) Leisey Shell Pit Local Fauna, Hillsborough County, Florida". Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History. 37: 397–461.
  19. ^ Paleobiology Database, Collection 20403 and 20400. Location Leisey's Shell Pits 1A and 3B, Hillsborough County, Florida. Authorized and entered by John Alroy on February 18, 1993 and Mark D. Uhen, Ph.D.
  20. ^ R. C. Hulbert Jr. and G. S. Morgan. 1989. Papers in Florida Paleontology 2.
  21. ^ Alroy J (1992). "Conjunction among taxonomic distributions and the Miocene mammalian biochronology of the Great Plains". Paleobiology. 18 (3): 326–343. doi:10.1017/S0094837300010873.
  22. ^ Alroy, J., Speciation and extinction in the fossil record of North American mammals. Ecological Reviews, 2008.
  23. ^ Parmalee P. W.; Graham R. W. (2002). "Additional records of the giant beaver, Castoroides, from the Mid-South: Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina". Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology. 93: 65–71.
  24. ^ Boulanger, M. T.; Lyman, R. L. (2014). "Northeastern North American Pleistocene megafauna chronologically overlapped minimally with Paleoindians". Quaternary Science Reviews. 85: 35–46. Bibcode:2014QSRv...85...35B. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.11.024.
  25. ^ Faith, J. Tyler (2011). "Late Pleistocene Climate Change, Nutrient Cycling, And The Megafaunal Extinctions In North America". Quaternary Science Reviews. 30 (13–14): 1675–1680. Bibcode:2011QSRv...30.1675F. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.03.011.
  26. ^ Parmalee (2002). "Additional records of the Giant Beaver, Castoroides, from the mid-South: Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina" (PDF). Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology. 93: 65–71.
  27. ^ Dale Guthrie, R. (2006). "New Carbon Dates Link Climatic Change With Human Colonization And Pleistocene Extinctions". Nature. 441 (7090): 207–209. Bibcode:2006Natur.441..207D. doi:10.1038/nature04604. PMID 16688174. S2CID 4327783.
  28. ^ Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake (2021). A Short History of the Blockade: Giant Beavers, Diplomacy, and Regeneration in Nishnaabewin. University of Alberta Press. ISBN 9781772125382.
  29. ^ "Giant Beaver | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2021-09-27.
  30. ^ Beck, J. C. (1972). "The Giant Beaver: A Prehistoric Memory?". Ethnohistory. 19 (2): 109–122. doi:10.2307/481746. JSTOR 481746.
  31. ^ Dunn, Anne M., and Sharon L. White. “Summer: When Beaver Was Very Great.” When Beaver Was Very Great: Stories to Live By, Midwest Traditions, Inc., Mount Horeb, WI, 1995, pp. 80–83.
  32. ^ Ethnohistory. No. 2, (Spring, 1972) ed., Vol. 19, Duke University Press, 1999.
  • Ruez, Dennis R, "Early Irvingtonian (Latest Pliocene) Rodents from Inglis 1C, Citrus County, Florida", 2001 The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
  • Alroy, J., Equilibrial diversity dynamics in North American mammals. pp. 232–287 in M. L. McKinney and J. A. Drake (eds.), Biodiversity dynamics: turnover of populations, taxa, and communities. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Swinehart, Anthony L., and Richards, Ronald L. "Palaeoecology of a Northeast Indiana Wetland Harboring Remains of the Pleistocene Giant Beaver (Castoroides Ohioensis)." Indiana Academy of Science, 2001.