An extended beaverian phenotype

October 5, 2013 • 8:34 am

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

23 thoughts on “An extended beaverian phenotype

    1. 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.

  1. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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. 🙂

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

  3. 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.

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

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

  6. 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).

  7. ‘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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