An extended beaverian phenotype

A beaver dam is probably the most famous example of an extended phenotype in nature, though on the sexual side one could mention the bowerbird’s bowers.  Here’s a video of beavers working on their ‘lodge’ or home, which is situated in the middle of the lake created by the dam. It was sent in by Matthew Cobb with the comment, “Annoying commentary and music, but still great. And he was clearly very happy to have seen them at such close quarters.”

I didn’t find the commentary so grating, but what amazed me was when the stick-toting beaver went bipedal at about 1:58 in.

By the way, those of you who went to the Dawkins event here, or read my commentary, know that Richard considers The Extended Phenotype as his greatest book, and the literary accomplishment he’s proudest of. You can buy it for only $12.74 at Amazon, and the readers’ ratings are very high. I recommend it as your next biology book.

And look at the cover:

Picture 2


  1. Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Just bought it. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. CNR
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    A follow on from Sir David Attenborough..

    Notice several cases of the bipedal behavior. I wasn’t aware of it either, but clearly a common tactic used in ferrying materials to and on the lodge…

    Quite an animal..

    • Posted October 6, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much for posting this! I was about to comment that videographers could take a lesson from Sir Richard — Pause and be quiet, so we can hear the ambient nature sounds (like the plash, plash of the water) and the sounds of the critters.

      More cute bipedal movements by Beaver in this video.

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to get that close to beavers, especially when they have kits.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Gawd, that newsbabe’s affectations were SO inappropriate.

  4. lanceleuven
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    The Extended Phenotype is one of Richard’s books that I haven’t quite got around to yet. I’ve heard that it’s pretty heavy going. Is that true? Or is it still easily accessible to the layman?

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I think it’s the weightiest of his volumes; i.e., the one you have to read most slowly to digest, but it’s very good!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      It’s not a RomCom, but it didn’t cause me any significant degree of indigestion reading it over a week or so on the rig in the late 90s.

    • lanceleuven
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Oh okay, thanks for the advice. I’ll add it to my (ever-growing!) book reading list.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      It is accessible to the layman, but not easily. It’s difficult, but rewarding. The Selfish Gene should be read first, though.

      • lanceleuven
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Cheers for the advice. I’ve read The Selfish Gene and didn’t have any problems with it. So I’ll give Extended Phenotype a shot.

    • Adam M.
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      It’s definitely true that it’s much less accessible than his other books. It seemed to me that he was writing more for professional biologists than for the general public. You should be able to get all the important points, but there are a lot of details that you may have little choice but to gloss over. I honestly didn’t much enjoy reading the book because of that, but the ideas discussed within are interesting.

      Depending on your education and willingness to stop reading and look up references, your kilometerage may vary. 🙂

  5. marksolock
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  6. pktom64
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I quite enjoyed the commentary actually: lots of data (I can’t vouch for them), informative and seeming passionate about what was going on !

  7. Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I have to say, I don’t consider it one of his best books. It’s too long-winded and the examples aren’t as salient as in some of his other writing. The Selfish Gene is much more approachable. That said, this book of course presents his scientifically most impressive accomplishment, and that is indeed worth reading about.

  8. Diane G.
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Great footage, but I have to think the tameness of the beavers and their close proximity to suburbia bodes ill for them.

  9. kelskye
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    “I recommend it as your next biology book.”
    Done. Probably about time I read another book on evolution, it’s been a while!

  10. MikeN
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    As a former member of the elite British Columbia Railway Anti-Beaver Flying Squad, I’m not surprised to see these vicious water-going rats using bipedalism; I’m surprised they’re not packing AK-47s.

    Explanatory note: when a railroad crosses a small stream,instead of a bridge they use a landfill with a culvert at the bottom to let the water flow. The beavers sees this as someone kindly building a dam for them, except the idiots forgot to plug the hole in the bottom,which the beaver promptly does- causing both erosion and water pressure building up against the crossing.

    Which means someone has to crawl up the downstream end of the pipe and start hauling out enough sticks and mud that the water starts to flow again, usually resulting in a soaking from ice-cold filthy beaver dam water- there’s a reason giardia is known in the North as “beaver fever”.
    And the beavers have been known to exhibit aggressive behavior during the process (naturally enough).

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      Most interesting! 😀

    • Posted October 6, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Thanks! Very funny!

  11. Posted October 6, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    So I’ll have to buy that book along with Dawkins’s autobio next. Thanks.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 6, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Beavers are so cute even if they are a pain for nibbling down trees & creating dams.

  13. alexandersafir
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    ‘The Extended Phenotype’ is the book that turned over the furniture of my mind. Long before many of the more contemporary books bashing the various gods this book managed to drive home the idea that the physical universe is powerful and utterly inter-connected.

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