Giant Beaver

Legend of a large, beaverlike rodentin eastern Canada.

Physical description: Not much information is available from the Native American legends, even on size. However, the animal must have been larger than the American beaver (Castor canadensis), which is about 2 feet—2 feet 6 inches long, with a 10-inch tail.

Distribution: Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Mishtamishku-shipu (Giant Beaver River), Labrador, 54°40' N, 62°25' W, was named for the animals that were killed there, according to the local Montagnais-Naskapi people.

Significant sighting: The Giant beaver created much damage with its huge dams. The Indian folk hero Gluskap set out to destroy it but wound up chasing it further west.

Possible explanation: Surviving Giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis), a large North American beaver that ranged from the Yukon south to Florida and from New York west to Nebraska and apparently died out 10,000 years ago. It was 7 feet 6 inches long and may have weighed 440 pounds. Its cutting teeth were 6 inches long, with strong enamel ridges. The tail was apparently round, not flat.

Sources: Jane C. Beck, "The Giant Beaver: A Prehistoric Memory?" Ethnohistory 19 (Spring 1972): 109-122; Mishtamishku-shipu: Giant Beaver River, http://www.innu.ca/beaver1.html.

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