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All Creatures,

Episode 39: Water Clowns, The North American River Otter

June 19, 2018

The North American River Otter is a member of the Mustelid family. They range from the southern United States up through Canada and Alaska. While classified as least concern, their populations are in decline. This otter species is also known as the ‘Canadian Otter’ and continually suffer from habitat degradation, pollution, and other pressures.

Otter Origins

We have already covered two species of Mustelids:

The Mustelids are the largest family of carnivores, and besides, they exhibit some incredible and ‘naughty’ behaviors. Their history dates back millions of years to the Miacids, which were a cat-, bear-, hyena-like animal that lived over 50 million years ago. The otters diverged out around 11 million years ago.

The North American River Otter’s scientific name is Lontra canadensis. There are 13 individual species of otter that range from the Sea Otter of the North Pacific Ocean to the Asian Small-Clawed Otter. Sadly, most are threatened with extinction.

Otter’ly Amazing Facts

The North American River Otter lives in ‘riparian’ zones. These are environments along and within river systems. A group of otters can be known as a romp or a raft. The males are called boars, females sow, and offspring pups. The river otter can swim up to 8 mph (13 kph) and can dive up to 36 feet (11 m). These otters can also stay underwater for up to 4 minutes.

Otters can be preyed upon by other carnivores such as bears, cougars, wolves, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, alligators, domestic dogs, and man. However, within river systems otters tend to be the apex predators. They have a varied diet of fish, crayfish, turtles, birds, insects, and even other small mammals like beavers. Yet, fish remains their main choice.

It has been observed of river otters actually hunting smaller alligators. See attached photos.

Otter Conservation

Many of the otter species are endangered. One, the Giant Brazilian River Otter, in South America is suffering from habitat destruction and is now considered endangered with a total population of maybe 5,000 animals. While Sea Otters are a great conservation success story, down to less than 2,000 animals in the year 1911 and today a population of over 125,000 they are still under threat. The genetic diversity of the population is low and these populations could collapse under the right circumstances.

Organizations to Support

River Otter Ecology Project

Friends of the Sea Otter

 

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