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North American River Otter

Lontra canadensis

Henry Vilas Zoo River Otter

Did you know that otters can stay underwater for up to eight minutes? They are excellent swimmers! In fact, their highly muscular tails make up nearly 40% of the otter’s total body and help them swim up to eight miles per hour.

Habitat: They live across the United States and Canada near rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, and estuaries.

Diet: River otters primarily eat fish, turtles, amphibians, crabs, and crayfish, with some birds, small mammals, and water plants.

Family Life: River otters are very social and known for their playfulness. While they tend to socialize in groups, they frequently like to live alone in or pairs. After a new litter is born, an otter family will remain together for six to seven months. Newborn otters weigh a tiny four to six ounces at birth and measure eight to eleven inches.

Henry Vilas Zoo River Otter

The North American river otter’s endangered status is listed as least concern.

Henry Vilas Zoo Least Concern Graphic
Henry Vilas Zoo River Otter
  • The otter population has been reduced by water pollution, uncontrolled trapping, and severe habitat loss.
  • River otters are frequently caught in beaver traps on accident.
  • They are also considered a good indicator of the water quality since they have a low tolerance for polluted water. There is some evidence that their birth rates are reduced when pollution levels are high.
Henry Vilas Zoo River Otter
Fun Facts
  • Talk about spreading out! A river otter’s home range can be up to 30 square miles.
  • These semiaquatic animals love being in the water and can easily dive to 36 feet or more.
  • Their best defense against cold water is… AIR! Otters groom themselves often, trapping air in their fur that prevents cold water from touching their skin, keeping them warm.
Henry Vilas Zoo River Otter
Quick Facts

CLASS: Mammalia (mammals)
ORDER: Carnivora (carnivores)
FAMILY: Mustelidae (badgers, otters, etc.)
GENUS: Lontra (American river otters)
SPECIES: Lontra canadensis (North American river otter)
LIFE SPAN: 8 – 9 years (wild) / ~21 years (zoo)
SIZE: 2.6 – 4.3 feet (0.8 – 1.3 m)
WEIGHT: 11 – 31 pounds (5 – 14 kg)
TAIL LENGTH: 11.8 – 19.9 inches (30 – 51 cm)

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