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Animal of the Week: the North American River Otter

Sara Umbrell, Layout Director


With everyone back from their well-deserved break, Animal of the Week picks back up this time with the North American river otter! These little fellows — you guessed it! — are native to North America, and they are found in many areas there as well as throughout Canada. They are semi-aquatic, meaning they only spend part of their time in the water. They are pretty versatile with habitat location and can be found in just about any body of water, so long as there is proper food. They make their home in dens or burrows along the edge of the water, with an entrance under the water so as to add more protection.


The river otter does spend a lot of time in the water, meaning they have many adaptations to help them survive. They have a thick fur coat to keep them warm in colder waters, short legs and a narrow body to help for quicker and more streamlined movement through the water. They can hold their breath for up to eight minutes and are able to make very quick, sudden turns that help them catch prey. Since sight is not always the best sense for under the water, otters will use their whiskers to detect any potential prey in the surrounding area.


The diet of the river otter is quite diverse, and it consists of many marine wildlife including fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, bird eggs, birds, reptiles, some species of aquatic plants and even small mammals. Since the river otter has a pretty high metabolism, they need to be consuming a large portion of food each and every day. However, the river otter does have a couple predators of its own that it needs to watch out for. These predators include bobcats, alligators, coyotes and larger raptors.


The breeding season for river otters is either in late winter or early spring, and mothers usually birth one to three pups. These pups are born pretty helpless, and they don’t learn to swim until they are about two months old. Once they reach sexual maturity, which is around two or three years old, river otters usually are solitary animals but can live in small social groups. They communicate with each other through various noises, which can be whistles, screams, yelps or growls. They have a scent gland on the underside of their tails that they use to scent mark, and it produces a strong, musky smell.


In the 1800 and 1900s, river otters were hunted for fur coats, and their populations were extirpated (extinct just from one or some locations) from many parts of their range. But luckily conservation efforts were able to bring them back up to sustainable numbers. Unfortunately, they still are vulnerable to habitat destruction and water pollution.



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