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HomeNL-2014-02 5 Nature Nook


Nature Nook
Feb. 2014
by Paul Woodcock




River Otter (Lontra Canadensis)

 


The first time I every saw a river otter was on our second trip to Canada. We had decided to take two trips; one long, and the shorter after the grueling adventure on the Bloodvein River two years before. We were on the Manigotagan River and it seemed we had portaged more than we paddled on the first days of the trip but we finally had a day where we could paddle and drift with the current. We were coming to a bend in the river with a high bank on one side and lowland swampy area on the other that entered a small lake. As we rounded the bend we saw a raft of otters. This one was made up of a mother and her pups, but some males sometimes congregate in numbers of up to 17. The mother was floating on her back with one young on on her belly and the others where whistling to each other as they played a game that looked a lot like tag.  Mother otter saw us and snorted by blowing air through her nose and they all disappeared beneath the water. They can stay under water for up to four minutes and that was the last we saw of them. I had not had time to get my camera out of my Pelican box  I did not get a picture.

         

Otters breed from December to April but because of delayed implantation may not give birth for up to a year after copulation. Gestation lasts about 60 days These were very young otters as it was early June.  Each pup weighs about 5 ounces and is weaned for about 6 weeks .

The second time I spotted an otter was on the 
Jacks Fork.  This is one of my favorite river in Missouri. It was early spring and we had gotten a late start on the river that morning. We had set up a wet camp the night before and the rain had turned to sleet. I had left my boots out side the tent and they had frozen solid . I had to sit around the campfire to thaw them out and others had joined me for the third cup of coffee. We shook the ice off the tents packed up and started down the river. It had warmed up and we came to a place where a creek had entered the river. There was a high muddy bank where a raft of otters were sliding down the bank. There were a number of kits and some adult helpers . As we approached they all disappeared in their den. Once again they were gone before I could get a picture .Otters do not make their own dens but use beaver and muskrat dens. Trapping and habitat change almost depleted the otter population by the 1900's but conservation and repopulation have increased their numbers, and now in some states they have allowed trapping again. They eat mostly fish but will also eat frogs, crustaceans, turtles and birds. The only natural predator they have in the water are alligators, but on land coyotes, panthers, wolves, bobcat, foxes and dogs, and of course man, all present a danger.

 
  Range map
The third time I spotted an otter was at
Miller Lake.  Houston Canoe Club paddlers were having lunch on shore and I had walked away from the group to a section of high ground. Ron Nunnley was off to the right of me and I heard him stuttering and I looked over to see a group of otters . There were two adults and a number of kits.were running away. In the water the otter is a picture of grace and can swim up to 6 miles an hour, but on land he moves very strange. He bounds, and his back feet land in almost the same place as his front feet .He looks like a large inch worm with his back hunching up and down. In snow he will sort of swim pushing with his back legs. The brown otter went down the bank into a pond while the black one ran the other direction and disappeared in the brush. I was startled at how large they looked. Adults weigh from 11 lb. to 31 lb. Sometimes they can travel over 30 miles on land.  All the web sites commented on how rare it is to see one. I feel blessed to have had contact with them even though I had left my camera back at the lunch site and once again did not get a picture.

 

The author, Paul Woodcock