You might say that the river otter (Lutra canadensis)
“slides” through life. One of the more lively wildlife species,
river otters play frequently, diving for objects, socializing,
swimming, and yes, sliding on their stomachs across ice or mud.
River otters are sleek, dark brown mammals with a tan or golden
blaze on the face and chest. Their narrow bodies can be longer
than four feet, much of which is tail length, and weigh 15-20
pounds. However, they stand less than a foot at the shoulders.
Females are slightly smaller than males.
River otters are found all across North America. As the name suggests, they live near rivers, ponds, or other bodies of water. They prefer seclusion, so they are often alone and found far from civilization. It has been said that one otter could easily have a 20-mile range all to itself, though it will find and socialize with other otters. Often, if beavers inhabit an area, an otter could as well, since otters are known to put beaver dens to their own use.
It’s a good thing river otters like water, as they are built for swimming, with a small head and eyes set high to avoid submersion. A flexible spine and rudder-like tail allow for beamline travel in water. Added to that, a river otter can stay under water for four minutes, using its webbed toes to pull itself along. When an otter goes underwater for a swim, his blood flow slows significantly and cuts off circulation to the outermost extremities. What little flow remains goes back and forth from the brain to the heart, allowing the otter to withstand longer periods without breathing. No need for blowing bubbles under water to prevent water intake, either, as the river otter’s nostrils close when submerged, blocking any flow of water. The same goes for it’s ears. It also has an abnormally thick coat, with waterproofing on the outside that keeps water from ever reaching down to his skin. Otters rely very little on fat stores for warmth, as their fur will sufficiently accomplish the task. Harsh weather poses little threat to this hardy member of the weasel family.
There is little threat of predation for river otter, either, making it easy for them to enjoy their sliding and diving sessions. They are big enough that few predators will attempt an attack, though bobcats, coyotes, and some others will occasionally be able to catch one.
The river otter is a predator, actually, of fish, frogs, turtles, crayfish, and even the occasional egg of a ground nesting bird. Other supplements find a way into the otter’s diet, from animals to insects to vegetation, but they rely heavily on frequent catches of fish. They will eat several species fish, such as carp and sunfish, but smaller fish make the easiest meals.
During the spring, otters travel and find mates. They use a wide vocabulary of sounds to communicate with each other. After almost a year, females give birth to two or three offspring, which are born helpless, usually in the seclusion of another animal’s abandoned den. After learning to swim, the young begin learning to hunt their own food, and eventually begin to travel. At two years old, the young otters will breed their own litters. A river otter can live 15-20 years.
If you spend enough time near a river or pond, you may spot a river otter enjoying a day of diving, fishing, or sliding. However, you may not see the otter in the same place again for a while, as his travels take him on frequent journeys.
* Beginning in 2007 sportsman can pursue these unique animals through hunting and trapping.