Monday, April 13, 2009
I heart otters
Photo by Crow_warrior 44 from Flickr.
The Northern River Otter, Lontra Canadensis, or Lutra Canadensis
Please enjoy some fun facts about Northern River Otters, culled from a variety of mostly-online sources.
Otters are natural swimmers, having webbed feet. Valve-like skin flaps cover their ears and nostrils, allowing them to dive to depths of up to thirty-five feet. River otters can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes.
River otters spend two-thirds of the time on land and can run at a speed of 29 km/hour.
River otters eat fish, including catfish, bullheads, suckers, carp, and sunfish. Amphibians that river otters eat include frogs or toads; they also eat crustaceans, including crayfish or mussels. Sea otters are one of the few tool-using mammals, using rocks to open clam shells whilst they float on their backs, but river otters do not do this.
Otters are related to weasels, ferrets, mink and badgers, of the family Mustelidae. River Otters can discharge a strong, disagreeable scent from a pair of anal glands when threatened or disturbed. Baby otters recognize their own mother’s specific musky odor.
Their average size is 18 pounds and 40 inches long. Males are approximately 17 percent larger than females, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism. As in many species, males have a penis bone, called a baculum. In contaminated areas, otters may have smaller bacula.
River otters’ lustrous, plush brown fur is waterproof, protecting them from extreme environmental conditions. This fur is still coveted by humans; sadly, 20,000 - 30,000 river otters are commercially harvested annually.
One delightful characteristic of river otters is their social habit. They enjoy playing and swimming together in streams, rivers, lakes, but can be shy and elusive, making it sometimes difficult for humans to see them. Play includes games, such as tag and catch, and leisurely swims. River otters enjoy sliding along riverbanks and on snow or ice. River otters are one of the few animals that play as adults.
River otters enjoy the fruits of other species' labors: they use abandoned or active structures created by other animals, such as beavers, as den-sites.
For an article about river otter re-introduction, click here.