This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the playful North American river otter.
Habitat: Canada and the United States, with some exceptions, such as southern California, the Mohave desert of Nevada and Colorado, and the Arctic tundra
North American river otter trivia
- Even though their name suggests that they only live in rivers, these hardy otters can also live in other freshwater habitats (such as lakes, marshes, and swamps) as well as coastal marine areas and estuaries (where a river meets the sea, so salt and fresh water are mixed).
- Being a semi-aquatic animal means that the North American river otter is ready for just about anything. They have a long, streamlined body, specialized nostrils that can close underwater, webbed feet, and dense, soft fur that keeps them warm in cold water. They’re also very agile on land.
- North American river otters build well-hidden dens with underwater entrances and tunnels for their homes. They choose naturally created burrows such as under logs, or sometimes they take over burrows that other animals have made. They line their burrows with soft grasses, hair, moss, and leaves.
- Females and males typically only associate during mating season and the males don’t help raise the young.
- Otters are known as one of the most playful animals, and the North American river variety is no exception! They have seemingly endless energy, and love sliding through mud and snow, splashing in the water, chasing their tails, and underwater wrestling. Of course, all this play actually has a purpose in practising techniques and learning how to navigate their environment.
- These otters are carnivores, eating fish, insects, crabs, amphibians, and sometimes even birds and eggs. Occasionally they’ll add some aquatic plants to their diets.
Why they’re threatened
Hunted for their fur for many years, the river otter has had its fair share of obstacles. Although they’re not listed as endangered or threatened, habitat degradation has reduced their range. Consequently, they have become extirpated (extinct in some areas but not others) in some parts of North America. Ongoing conservation and reintroduction efforts are helping to stabilize populations.
Nevertheless, these river otters are extremely sensitive to pollution and will disappear from areas in which the water becomes polluted. Oil spills are a particular concern. Therefore, helping otters includes engaging in environmentally friendly activities and reaching out to environmental groups.