Intelligent, playful river otters

A member of the mustelid family that you are more likely to see on a larger water body such as the Monocacy or Potomac rivers is the Northern river otter (Lontra canadensis). They have long, narrow bodies, short limbs, thick fur and webbed feet.

Otters are the largest mustelids living in Maryland; they can attain lengths of 3 feet and weigh up to 40 pounds. Otters were designed to swim, and their thick hair insulates them from cold temperatures. The name otter comes from the old English word otor meaning "water."

River otters feed mostly on fish and other aquatic organisms and spend a great deal of time in the water. River otters can dive to 60 feet to catch fish and can hold their breath for several minutes. They dig an elaborate underground burrow near a stream or water body with at least one opening next to the water's edge.

River Otter

Otters are intelligent and playful, and they are one of the few animals that have learned to use tools, employing the sides of rocks to help them open shellfish. River otter numbers were depleted when they were widely trapped for their pelts. Their numbers have returned; but, otters are sensitive to pollution so they have disappeared where environmental degradation occurs.

Otters are found in all parts of the globe. The Pacific sea otter was nearly hunted to extinction, but now it is common on the West Coast. The giant otter of the Amazon River can attain lengths of 6 feet or more and weigh up to 80 pounds. Fishermen in Bangladesh train otters to chase fish to their nets.

Otters have been represented in many cultures. A Norse god, Otr, would assume the form of an otter from time to time, and some Native American totem poles have the figure of an otter on them.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 3/21/2010