River Otter


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River Otter

photo of a river otter
Lontra canadensis
Mustelidae (weasels) in the order Carnivora

River otters are well suited to life in the water. They have streamlined bodies, webbed feet and long, tapered tails. Their ears and nose close when they go underwater. Dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat insulate them in the water. The have an acute sense of smell, and prominent facial whiskers, which are extremely sensitive to touch. Otters are dark brown with pale brown or gray bellies. The muzzle and throat are silvery. Males and females look alike, although males are larger. Otters are relatively long-lived. In captivity, some bred at 17 years and lived to 19 years of age. They are graceful, powerful swimmers and can remain submerged for 3 to 4 minutes. On land, they travel with a loping gate. On snow or ice, they alternate loping with sliding.

Total length: 35 ½ – 53 inches; weight: 10-30 pounds.
Habitat and conservation: 
River otters live in streams, rivers and lakes usually bordered by forest. Burrows may be under large tree roots, beneath rocky ledges, under fallen trees, or below thickets. The burrows are usually former homes of muskrats, beavers or woodchucks. Private and public landowner efforts to conserve streams, ponds and lakes benefit otters.
Crayfish make up a large portion of an otter’s diet for most of the year, but during winter they feed almost exclusively on fish. Other foods include mussels, frogs, turtles, aquatic insects and other small animals. Otters use their whiskers to feel around underwater and find food.
Distribution in Missouri: 
A century ago, otters were nearly eliminated in Missouri because of unregulated harvest. Restoration efforts in the 1980s and early 1990s included the release of more than 800 otters in the state. Thanks to these efforts, otters are once again found throughout most of Missouri.
Life cycle: 
Otters are mostly nocturnal and active all year. Social and generally living in family groups, they vocalize to each other through a variety of sounds including chirps, grunts and snarls. Otters also communicate through scent at latrine sites. They regularly visit these sites to deposit droppings and secretions from their musk glands. Females whelp two to five young, usually in February or March. The young are weaned at 4 months of age but stay with their parents until the following spring.
Human connections: 
Otters are playful, and people enjoy watching their antics. Otter fur is thick, glossy and luxurious, making it a valuable commodity.
Ecosystem connections: 
Otters help control aquatic prey populations.
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