I have been thinking about the crafty North American beaver, Castor canadensis, lately. Besides their remarkable building prowess, their aptitude for revitalizing riparian areas, and their mastery of staying awake and active in lodges and underneath the ice all winter, beavers also survive off eating wood.
I was fascinated by a recent “mystery photo” on Mary Holland’s blog, Naturally Curious, that revealed the cecum of a porcupine discarded after a fisher consumed the rest of the quill pig (see Mystery Photo and Porcupine Cecum). The cecum is the organ that facilitates the process of hind gut fermentation in several animals, including muskrats, porcupines, and beavers. A beaver cannot digest the fibrous and woody material it consumes very quickly, as you might imagine, so those hidden nutrients spend some extra time in the cecum in order to ferment and break down further.
Just as humans have been re-realizing that fermented foods such as sauerkraut are an important addition to our diets, beavers have figured out how to do the fermentation within themselves to enhance the potential of the nutrients they absorb.
Fermented Foods Bubble with Health Benefits, Washington Post
Benefits of Fermentation, by Dr. David Ramaley
My favorite resource for fermented food recipes is the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz