LUBBOCK, Texas — It’s not exactly a dinosaur, but it is a story thousands of years in the making. A Texas Tech doctoral candidate has made a historic discovery in Lubbock. A handful of North American beavers are back living in the South Plains for the first time in 5,000 years.
“It took them a little while, but they made it back … There’s a lot of lakeshore here, a lot of habitat, and so who knows how many could really be here?” said Garret D. Langlois, a doctoral candidate in natural resources management at Tech.
Langlois made the discovery and said his research proves beavers are living in the Canyon Lakes, Buffalo Springs and Ransom Canyon. But their presence did not happen overnight.
According to his investigation which covers 100 river miles and 12 years, beavers have been coming into town from the East, secretly working up tributaries of the Brazos River for more than a decade.
He said fossil records show that beavers lived in this area and in North and Central Texas less than 125,000 years ago, and they expanded their range as far as the border between New Mexico and Mexico as well as Northwest Arizona.
Those same fossil records show that after two severe droughts exactly 6,500 to 4,500 years ago, the beaver population all but disappeared from the South Plains.
But his research project officially started November 2015 when — to his shock — he and some others spotted a dead beaver at Mackenzie Park — a creature that they thought had not lived here since prehistoric times.
“When this carcass was discovered, people started thinking well possibly, possibly beaver could be here, but we needed more evidence,” Langlois said.
He set up night vision cameras to capture the nocturnal critters, and in the day, he also saw some telltale signs, including nesting areas, tunnels and tree stubs they chewed with their large incisors.
But these Lubbock beavers are not regular rodents.
“These beaver are particularly cryptic in their behavior. They really like to keep a low profile. These beaver are kind of like ghosts. I’ve only seen the beaver in person three times and only two of those times did I get a good look at it,” Langlois said.
He added that if you come face to face with a beaver, “consider yourself lucky,” but do leave them alone. He said to keep your eyes peeled for them crossing the road as you’re driving by the Canyon Lakes. It took these beavers 5,000 years to get here, so the least Lubbockites can do is give them a warm West Texas welcome.
But why did the beavers come back at all?
“Wildlife is always searching for new places that it can live, just like we do,” Langlois said.
If you’d like to read more about their research, you can find his peer-reviewed paper here.