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River Otter

Updated on February 23, 2016

Scientific Name: Lontra canadensis

River Otter Description

 Learning more about the River Otter will likely encourage you to want to help them to survive in their natural environment. They are very fun and enjoyable creatures out there. They can grow to be anywhere from 35 inches to 53 inches tall. They can also vary quite a bit in weight due to the foods they consume in any given area. What is interesting is that they have a tail that will be about 40% of the length of their bodies. They also have very short legs that help them to move around on land.

River Otter Anatomy

 The anatomy of the River Otter allows them to do very well on both land and in the water. Since they do spend the majority of their time in the water though it is reasonable that their bodies are better designed for that purpose. For example they have webbed feet that help them to keep their balance on land. It also helps them to easily move around in the water.

The very long tail that I mentioned helps them to move fast in the water. However, it also helps them with the balance both on land and in the water. They have the ability to stay under water for a period of four minutes or less. They also follow suit with other otters with the ability to close the nostrils and ears before each dive occurs.

Their fur is very thick and it offers a waterproof barrier for them from the water and their skin. This is a benefit because it means they are able to do very well regardless of the temperature  of the water in a given area.

River Otter Evolution

Some fossils that have been tested are about 7 million years old. This shows that the River Otter has been successfully surviving for a very long time. It is possible that they were once only on land? It is possible that their webbed feet and the size of their tails changed to allow them to adequately find food in the water? These are common enough theories but we are still searching for the concrete evidence to back it up.

River Otter Behavior

They are extremely fun to watch both in the wild and in captivity. People of all ages can’t help but be entertained by them. When they are on land they put on quite a show. This includes sunbathing, wrestling with each other, sliding on their stomachs, doing flips, and even completing somersaults. They have tons of energy and they seem to be having an extremely good time.

They do socialize often with each other, but only within their own sex. They won’t interact with the opposite sex unless they are interested in mating. They do however, thrive in the company of these other River Otters around them. They will mainly interact with each other on the shore during the day. That is also when they mainly sleep in the burrows that they have created.

At night they are very lively in the water and that they are spending time searching for their food. You will hear plenty of sounds from the River Otters as they interact with each other. This includes chirps, squeals, chuckling, and more. They have lots of sounds that we still haven’t figured out. Many of them though we do understand due to the body actions that accompany them. Read more in the Portal of Natural Diversity.

River Otter Habitat

 They love to enjoy various types of water, but they aren’t only limited to the rivers as some people think due to their name. Instead you will also find them around streams and lakes. They do need to have land close where they can create their burrows. That is where they will sleep as well as where the females will have their young. They love areas of water that are surrounded by either woods or the wetlands.

Here they can find plenty of supplies to create their burrows. Sometimes they will even take over abandoned dams or old logs to use for their homes. They tend to sleep during the day while relaxing in their burrows or in the sunlight. It is at night when they spend their time in the water.

River Otter Feeding Habits

 There is plenty of different types of food out there for the River Otter to spend time looking for. They will dive very deep for it at an amazing speed. The biggest type of food for them are fish. They consume various sizes of them as well as types. They will also feed on crayfish, frogs, turtles, and clams. They have very good eyesight which allows them to do well hunting when it is dark.

They use their forepaws to get the fish and other prey and then bite it. They may do this in the water but occasionally they will take food to the shore and consume it there. They can also leisurely consume it while floating in the water on their backs. This is really fun to watch them do if you ever have the opportunity.

River Otter Reproduction

River Otters are ready to reproduce when they are from 2 – 4 years old. This is the only time the males and females show any real interest in each other. All of the silly things they do become even more critical as they can attract them a good mate. They will move into the water for the mating process to take place. Then they will go back to avoiding each other as much as possible!

Since mating can take place any time of the year, the females work hard to try to have their young born in the springtime. This allows them to have enough warmth and for her to find enough food to produce milk for them. She can prevent the embryo from attaching for several months so that the pups aren’t born to early in the year. Therefore it can be up to a full year from mating before she has them.

Her burrow is where she will have the pups and her litters can range from one of them to as many as six. They can’t see for a couple of weeks so they depend on her for everything. When she goes to the water to get food, they will rely on each other to stay warm and comfortable. Once they are a month old they can come to the land and will hang out there for about a week. Then they will slowly be introduced to the water and to finding food.

River Otter Predators

 The life span for River Otters in the wild is only about 10 years. Many of them never reach that age though due to predators. They can become meals for mountain lions, bobcats, birds, coyotes, or alligators. They are more likely to find these types of predators on land which is why they do spend so much time in the water. The specific threat of predators to them varies depending on the area where they live.

The number of them has been in jeopardy due to hunting them for fur. Due to the fact that the fur trade isn’t as profitable as it once was though this threat isn’t as high as it used to be. A huge problem is that when the water where they are living ends up being polluted due to humans making poor choices. This ends up resulting in them not mating as well as them not being able to thrive.


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