Northern River Otter

Northern River Otter: (Lutra canadensis)

The northern river otter; commonly known as the North American river otter or river otter and otter (Lutra canadensis) is a member of the weasel family. River otters are medium in size, averaging between 26 to 42 inches long, the tail is 12 to 20 inches long and they weigh about 25 pounds. Male river otters can often reach or exceed weights of 33 pounds.

River otters have a long slender body that is like a weasel. They have small eyes, ears and head. Its neck is  muscular. Their legs are short and they have webbed toes and a tapering tail. Its fur is dense, soft, short and a deep brown color on its back and sides. Its chin and under-parts are a paler light brown, appearing almost a silvery color.

Northern river otters are found throughout North American, including Florida, however they appear to be absent or rarely seen in Arizona,
Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginian. Their preferred habitats are located in areas that have fresh water sources such as rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds and swamps.

Northern river otters primarily consume an assortment of fish such as crayfish, red - horses, carp, chubs, daces, shiners, squaw - fish, bullheads and catfish. Other fish they consume consist of sunfish, darters, and perches which are part of large schools. They also consume some reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects.

River otters are active year round, however they are mainly active at dawn and dusk. They become more nocturnal in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter they become diurnal. Otters live in burrows on the banks of the water. Which is often under the roots of a tree. They may dig their own burrow, or reconstruct a beavers burrow. They may leave their homes as a result of insignificant food sources or environmental conditions, but they do not migrate annually. Otters swim by paddling, its tail is also used while swimming for stability and short bursts of rapid swimming. While swimming at the surface of the water, portions of the otters head, nostrils, ears and eyes are above the water. Otters must remain in motion to maintain its position at the surface of the water. When river otters are on land they can walk, run or slide. They are very social in all habitats. Their basic social group consists of the family group which includes the mother and her offspring. As for the adult males they establish social groups that can have as many as 17 individuals. They communicate in several ways, by using signals. They also produce scents that are imperative for inter-group communication. They produce scents with feces, urine, and sometimes secretions from their anal sac. The musk from the scent glands may also be secreted when otter are frightened or angry. They also make snarling growls or hissing barks when bothered, and a shrill whistle when in pain. When they are playing or traveling, they sometimes make a low purring grunt. River otters can remain under water for about 4 minutes and swim at speeds up to 6.8 mph. They can dive up to depths of 22 yards and travel up to 440 yards while under water. River otters are playful creatures and may approach you while in the water, wanting to play with you, they are harmless to humans.


Female otters usually do not reproduce until they are 2 years old. They typically breed from December to April; having a litter of 1 to 3 pups, but they can have up to 5 pups in a single litter. Their gestation period lasts approximately 61 to 63 days. When the pups are born they are fully furred, blind and toothless. The claws are well formed and facial vibrissae are present. The pups open their eyes after a month. The newborns start playing at 5 to 6 weeks of age. They also begin eating solid foods between 9 to 10 weeks. The mother raises her pups with out the help of the father.

The diseases and parasites that are associated with the river otter are rarely a risk to humans. Giardia and cryptosoridium have also been found in river otters. It is highly recommended that anyone whom handles a river otter should wear rubber gloves and properly wash their hands afterwards.


River otters particularly families containing young pups in the spring, occasionally cause sever problems in fish hatcheries and private ponds. They can also den under houses, decks and other structures that are near bodies of water, the smell of discarded food and feces remains can be very foul.

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