North American River Otters: Lontra canadensis
River otters range throughout the United States and Canada. They are typically found in rivers, lakes, estuaries and marshes.
The river otter is the largest member of the weasel family. It spends a good deal of time on land, but with its webbed feet is more at home in the water. When hunting and playing they can swim at speeds up to 7 mph, but normally move slower, only using their speed for short bursts. River otters can dive up to 60 feet and stay underwater six to eight minutes.
When swimming, otters leave a trail of bubbles behind. Air gets trapped between their two layers of fur and then is released as the animals move through the water. These two layers of fur provide excellent insulation, making the river otter almost impervious to cold, and waterproofs the coat.
They are most active in early morning and early evening, but overall, about half of the otter’s time is spent sleeping. The average lifespan for a North American river otter is approximately 10 years.
River otters are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will look for prey that requires the least amount of energy to get. Their diet includes fish, crustaceans, small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and eggs.
Virginia Aquarium River Otters
The Aquarium has two male river otters: Homer and Tippy. Like their wild counterparts, the Aquarium’s otters are very playful and spend a lot of time swimming, wrestling with each other and enjoying the toys and enrichment programs provided by the Aquarium’s staff.
The boys are fed a daily diet of fish, chicken and mice along with snack of vegetables, fruit, shellfish, minnows, crickets and hardboiled eggs.
Stranding Response Team
While they are not endangered, these playful animals sometimes fall victim to unintentional human interactions. They can become entangled in discarded fishing line, soda can rings or other trash. Pesticide and oil spills can also be harmful to these animals. But more often, cars hit them as they try to cross the roads.
To help protect otters, as well as other animals, always dispose of your trash properly and stay alert while driving. Remember that these are wild animals, so for your safety and the safety of the animal, never try to feed or approach them.
If you ever find a sick or injured river otter, be sure to call your local wildlife rehabilitator immediately.