Canada’s docile ‘living fossil’ can’t handle the heat

Published August 12, 2012

The Wild Side, Part Two: As the human footprint expands across Canada, so does the threat to the country’s wildlife. There are now 650 species officially listed as endangered, threatened, special concern, or no longer found in the wild in Canada. In part two of the series, Postmedia News looks at a small mammal scientists refer to as “a living fossil.”

The Mountain Beaver, shown here after being caught by BC researchers, is the most primitive rodent alive in the world today. Photo by Michelle Holst

Fresh green ferns and leaves stacked up at the entrance of the tunnel are a dead giveaway. The “living fossil” is in.

But good luck seeing the creature, which is known as the Mountain Beaver.

It is so elusive that homeowners near colonies on mountain slopes outside Vancouver are often unaware that the strange little mammals are nibbling on carrots in their backyards.

“They’d have no idea,”  says wildlife biologist Pontus Lindgren, who studied one colony that had been raiding gardens.

While the creatures share a name with the much more common North American Beaver, that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Mountain Beavers are, as scientists put it, a “living fossil.”  They are the most primitive rodent alive in the world today, the only remaining representative of a family of creatures that dates back at least 25 million years, long before humans walked the Earth. Continue reading