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The American Beaver

Other-than-human pair bonding

Beavers are social animals in an eminent degree. This disposition is manifested in their strongly developed propensity to pair and live in the family relation. (Morgan 1868:134)

Beavers take care of their own.

Today’s mainline scientific view of the universe is that humans are uniquely different from other living (and non-living) things. This worldview is what Philippe Descola (2013:ch. 8) terms naturalism. Pinning down exactly how humans are unique from other living things gets a tricky, though.

  • Only humans use language, right? Humpback whales, amongst others, might, as well.
  • Humans are the only toolmakers and users on our planet, correct? The answer to that is an unqualified “no.”
  • Well, surely pair bonding is the uniquely human trait amongst animals! As it turns out, beavers form pair bonds, too.

House life of the American beaver.

Because he was observant and fascinated with all things related to family life and the Americas, Lewis H. Morgan was, of course, compelled to write a book about Castor canadensis. I’m especially fond of Morgan’s book for three reasons. It reminds me that the humans who came before me are worth taking seriously regardless of what some of the contemporaries in my species might think. It also helps me think on how the non-humans who surround me today might not be that different from me. And thirdly, I think beavers are cool, so it’s just a fun book to read.


Descola, Philippe. 2013. Beyond nature and culture. Trans by. Janet Lloyd. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Morgan, Lewis H. 1868. The American beaver and his works. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co.

Müller-Schwarze, Dietland, and Lixing Sun. 2003. The beaver: natural history of a wetlands engineer. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Pub. Associates.

Williams, Mark, and Scott Jones. 2006. “Lithics, shellfish, and beavers.” In Light on the path: the anthropology and history of the Southeastern Indians, ed by. Thomas J. Pluckhahn and Robbie Ethridge, 43–56 [volume References cited, 219–69]. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Authorship information

Matthew Timothy Bradley


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