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River Otter

Updated on September 11, 2014

River Otter One Of The North America Animals

The River Otter - The otter in this picture tends to show up every time the river opens up do to warmer weather. Sometimes there has been as many as seven animals at this location. Due to the river currents beneath the ice in this area this happens often every winter.

You'll find river otter of Wisconsin mostly in the northern parts of the state in streams, rivers, marshes, lakes, and ponds where you may see a sleek, dark brown critter with a long, tapered, muscular body gliding just below the water surface. The river otter, is a member of the weasel family, and is equally versatile in the water as on land.

They often appear on the ice in the winter near open water with a fish.

When you're paddling along in your kayak or canoe in Wisconsin's rivers, lakes and streams, look carefully--wild otters are not often seen because they are very secretive. If you do see one, you will not soon forget the experience.

They are less common in the southwestern and central two-thirds of the state. They are rarely found in Door County and the southern and southeastern half of the state.

The photo was taken by my wife on the river where we live.

On the ice
On the ice

Facts About Otters

Physical Appearance

North American river otters are semi-aquatic mammals, with long, streamlined bodies, thick tapered tails, and short legs. They have wide, rounded heads, small ears, and nostrils that can be closed underwater. The fur is dark brown to almost black in some areas of the body. The throat and cheeks are usually a golden brown. The fur is dense but soft, effectively insulating these animals in water. The feet have claws and are completely fully webbed.

They are the largest member of the weasel family with 2-4 inch whiskers and a light tan cheek, chin, throat, and belly patch and thick muscular tail.

Otters measure about 3-4 feet long with a 12-18 inch tail and the males average larger than females in all measurements.

River Otter With Fish
River Otter With Fish

What Do Otters Eat?

Normal Food of the Otter

Otters munch from an aquatic menu. Their favorites are fish such as suckers, minnows, sunfish, bass, and minnows. Their second choice is crayfish, then frogs and miscellaneous animals. They sometimes eat aquatic plants.

They like to forage near shorelines, overhanging banks, and areas where fish are found. They have been known to eat birds, bird eggs and vegetation also. Otters need about 3 square miles to find all of this food.

Their prey is captured with the mouth using the whiskers to detect organisms in the substrate and the dark water. Prey is eaten immediately after capture, usually in the water, or on the ice, but larger prey is eaten on land. These whiskers are used extensively in hunting, as smell, vision, and hearing are diminished in the water

They are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for up to 4 to 8 minutes. They've actually been known to dive to depths of more than 40 feet.

As our winter approaches the otters will start appearing again near our house for open water fishing.With the deep late snow and the early freeze we did not see many in 2013 as normal.

Communications Methods

Otter Talk

The river otter of Wisconsin communicate in a variety of ways as they do where ever they are found.

They vocalize with whistles, growls, chuckles, grunts, snorts and screams


They also use touch and communicate through posture and other body signals, urination deposits, and other alarm signals and hurt sounds.

There has been as many as seven otters appear and are a joy to watch. Very playful animals in a group.


Where Do Otters Live

Home Burrows

They are found anywhere there is a permanent food supply and easy access to water. They normally live near water including rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, and estuaries. The otter can tolerate a variety of environments which includes cold and warmer climates. The river otter seems to be sensitive to pollution and disappear from areas which contain polluted waters.

They build dens in the burrows of other mammals, in natural hollows, under a log, or in a river bank that has an underwater entrance and a tunnel leading to a nest chamber that is lined with leaves, grass, moss, bark, and hair.

The photo was taken by my wife on the river where we live.

Otter Information


Males and females do not associate except during the mating season. Males often breed with more than one female, probably those whose home ranges overlap with their own.

Males and females come together to breed in late winter or early spring.

Gestation lasts two months, but the young can be born up to a year after mating because otters can employ delayed implantation of the fertilized egg.

Births will normally be from November to May, peaking in March and April.

Females give birth from 1 to 6 young per litter and with a average of 2 to 3 in a den..

The newborn are born with fur, but are otherwise helpless.

Young otters are born about 4.5 inches long, furry, with their eyes closed for about a month

Pups are weaned at 8-10 weeks and then they learn to swim. Some love the water and dive right in, while others have special attention to do so.

After about a year each otter will strike out on its own and establish its own territory, mature and later reproduce its own family.

Lifespan and Behavior

Playful And Fun To Watch

North American river otters have lived up to 21 years in captivity. They normally live around 8 to 9 years in the wild.

They are known as playful animals, exhibiting behaviors such as mud/snow sliding, burrowing through the snow, and water play. Many "play" activities actually serve some other purposes like strengthen social bonds, practice hunting techniques, and scent mark.

They like to wrestle, chase other otters, and play capture and release with live prey. In the winter, you'll find otters traveling overland by bounding 3-4 times, pushing off with their hind feet, and then sliding 5-15 feet on the snow. Downhill slides are a bonus, but otters rarely go back to the hilltop to slide down again, contrary to what people think. I personally have seem them slide on snow several times while snowmobiling.

This picture was taken 12-2011 just across the river from our house in Wisconsin.

The photo was taken by my wife on the river where we live.

Other Otter Of The World

There are 13 known otter species: giant, marine, sea, hairy-nosed, smooth-coated, speckle-throated, northern river, southern river, neotropical river, African clawless, Congo clawless, Asian small-clawed and Eurasian. Living in the North I only have seen the river otter, many times on the river in front of my house.

You Otter Leave a Note

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I have a lake house in Cornell, Wisconsin and see our Otter "Mitch" almost every day in the summer months and on occasion in the winter. If we are making too much noise for him, he kinda chirps at us.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I saw an otter today and I live in Racine, I suppose I'm lucky :3

    • CampingmanNW profile image


      5 years ago

      Zspansnts on w lemai about one of natures oft overlooked creatures. They are fun loving and loyal animals that many people do not know much about. Thanks for the lens.

    • Riverman57 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Hayward, Wisconsin

      @anonymous: I have had up to seven on the ice here in the winter. Fun to watch. Some pictures on this site taken by wife here in Hayward, Wi

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      We saw an otter today on the ice age trail next to the Oconomowoc river in Monches. The otter had a large rat or muskrat in it's mouth that it dragged away when it saw us. We have hiked this trail many times in the past five years and have never seen an otter. Linda Glasser Hartland, WI

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @anonymous: Alright, I'll look there. Thank You! :D

      I did find some useful information on here though! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @anonymous: Alright, I'll look there. Thank You! :D

      I did find some useful information on here though! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i got sum good info out of here thx

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for asking and visiting my site. Some items about the way they communicate can be found here.

      There was some things I choose not to present.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Y'all need a little more information on here. It didn't really tell me anything about the Communication of a River Otter. I am having to find this information for my Biodiversity Project! Please tell me more! :)


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