Six Facts You “Otter” Know
The first word that comes to mind for most people when they think of river otters is “playful.” Many have seen these exciting critters at the zoo or – if you’re very lucky – in the wild tussling and rolling around with one another, seeming to have the time of their lives. But how much do you actually know about this aquatic mammal?
1. Otters are members of the weasel family. Although they are mistaken for beavers all the time, they aren’t even related to them! They are, however, closely related to minks, ferrets and badgers.
2. Female otters take care of the young all on their own. When you see a pair or group of otters playing together, it is typically a mother and her young. Males are usually only present during mating season, and the rest of the year they are solitary creatures.
3. All that play has an important purpose. River otters rely upon play to learn survival skills such as fighting and hunting. This playful behavior is usually limited mostly to immature otters.
4. Otter bodies are perfectly shaped for aquatic life. Their ears are short and their neck is the same diameter as their head. They have short, powerful legs. Their toes are fully webbed, and their tail (which makes up one-third of their body length) is tapered. These qualities give the river otter a streamlined profile in water, but reduce agility on land.
5. Otters were completely extirpated from Ohio by the early 1900s. Most people point to overhunting for fur as the most common reason for this. However, habitat loss and pollution of waterways were equally devastating to otter populations here and across the country.
6. Otters are making a comeback in our state! In 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began a seven-year project to reintroduce the species to the state. Over this period, 123 otters were captured in surrounding states and released into several Ohio waterways. Since then, river otters have been sighted in nearly two-thirds of Ohio’s counties.
These are just a few things you “otter” know about these crafty critters, but there is so much more to learn (They can stay underwater for eight minutes! They are nearsighted on land! They can weigh up to 30 pounds!). Keep reading on your own about these interesting mammals, and then stop by the Miami Whitewater Forest visitor center. You can share what you’ve learned with us and take a close up look at our new otter mount.
Heather Ficke, Naturalist, Miami Whitewater Forest