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CRITTER SPOTLIGHT: North American River Otter: Lontra canadensis

North American river otters live in most parts of North America. They are found in Canada and most of the United States, except in portions of the Southwest, and a few other areas. They can live in a variety of water habitats including marshes, ponds, lakes, and estuaries. The water can be cold or warm. Similar to beavers, otters create homes on or near the water. These homes called dens can be accessed by the otters from underwater. These underwater entrances help the otter to escape predators such as bobcats, alligators, coyotes, and raptors.

Otters have been described as carnivores by many resources, but they have been found to eat some aquatic plants, so this would mean they are omnivores. Their diet consists primarily of fish and crustaceans, but they will also feast on bird eggs, reptiles, and amphibians. During a visit to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, my girls and I learned that the male North American river otter became ill after eating some holly in its enclosure. The zookeepers removed the holly, but the otter never regained its full strength. Animals can be very unpredictable and it's important that these instances be documented so that captive animals can be kept safe. Although most animals avoid foods that they know to be harmful, some animals may not know, or could accidentally ingest these items. Animal diets may also change due to environmental factors. For instance, if otters, primarily carnivores, start finding fewer animals in their environment to eat, they may need to start eating plants.

Otters are very playful creatures. They tend to live alone in pairs, but will often socialize in groups. They communicate using a lot of different sounds including yelps, whistles, and growls. Like the fox, which was last week's critter spotlight, otters will mark their territory as well, but they use scent glands that are located at the base of their tales.

Otters can live about 12 years. The oldest living otter on record reached 27. They weigh anywhere from 10-30 pounds. Otters have cool adaptations for life in the water. They have a nictitating membrane, which acts like a third eyelid which they can keep closed but still can see through for travel under the water. They have extremely long whiskers which help them to locate and capture prey. They have a very coarse outer layer of hair which helps to repel water. They can close their nostrils when traveling under the water for long distances. They have fully webbed feet. Lastly, they have a long, muscular tail, which helps to propel them through the water. They have been known to travel as fast as 8 miles per hour.

Here is a picture of the female North American river otter at Roger Williams Park Zoo. She is pregnant and her pups are due sometime around August.

I hope you enjoyed this week's critter spotlight. Remember, if you have a suggestion for a future spotlight, please email me at

Happy Exploring my friends, don't forget to bundle up and get outside in the snow!


Mrs. Morissette

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