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River Otter

River otters are playful members of the weasel family who love to frolic in the water. They are common in local rivers and are a joy to watch. Otters can remain submerged for several minutes. They have valved ears and noses to keep water out. The fur is warm and thick. Since they spend a significant amount of time in the water, their tracks aren't often found. The best places to look for tracks are muddy river banks. They have five toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet. Their toes are partially webbed, which helps them swim. Tracks in mud sometimes show this webbing. The claw marks are so close to the toes, they give the toes a characteristic pointed appearance. Otters are well-known for their intelligence and their playful antics. They are excellent fishers, but also will eat small mammals, fish, shellfish, snakes, turtles, birds, eggs, amphibians, and lampreys, a fish mistakenly called an "eel" which gave the Eel River its name. They feed primarily on amphibians and will range up to five miles up and down the river each day while hunting. The tail drag is sometimes visible in an otter trail. Often, their prints are found in groups of four. Otter scat commonly contains fish scales and is often found on prominent landmarks near water, including rocks, stumps, and boat docks. Otters roll on river banks and leave a musky scent. Dens are dug into banks, with underwater or above ground entrances. Nests are made inside the den out of leaves, sticks, and grass. Otters will often travel overland, far from water. They are active during daylight. Otters have two to three pups in late spring. Adult otters can weigh 30 pounds.

Click here to see drawings of river otter tracks.

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Revised: 15 September 1997
Written by Kim A. Cabrera
Copyright © 1997 Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association