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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 230: The Beaver Skull

By Jack Ashby, on 11 March 2016

North American beaver skull. LDUCZ-Z2731

North American beaver skull. LDUCZ-Z2731

It is purely coincidence that Specimen of the Week 230 – the number most associated with going to the dentist [tooth hurty. Apologies.] – is an animal famous for the incredible feats of its teeth.

Beavers can cut down huge trees, owing to the superb adaptations of their skulls.

Like squirrels, but at the bottom of trees

As members of the squirrel-like rodent group Sciuromorpha, beavers have massive, ever-growing, self-sharpening front teeth. Rodent incisors are often differently coloured on the front and back. The orange substance on the front side is super hard enamel, while the back is unusually exposed dentine (a softer material which fills the inside in most teeth). When rodents bite on hard material, or even by biting their top teeth against their bottom teeth, the dentine erodes away at a faster rate than the enamel, essentially sharping the “blade”. (more…)

I found this…. Beaver stick

By Dean W Veall, on 16 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

Beaver StickBEAVER STICK! At the back of one of our cupboards I found this botanical specimen and it immediately caught my interest. Why a piece of wood in a zoological collection? Closer inspection revealed it was  covered in long thin bite marks and been chewed to points at both ends. There was only one conclusion, BEAVER STICK! But which species of beaver had carved this wood? Was it the Eurasian or the American beaver? Having only been here for about a month I was keen to prove myself, so I was determined to find out the species of beaver had made this. There are two ways to find this out; identify the species of tree the specimen came from and work out if the range of the tree overlaps with either species of beaver. Or, use some of our beaver skull specimens and identify the teeth marks and match it to the species.

Well that was the plan. (more…)