By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education
Questions about river otters have been coming into the Museum, as well as observations of them people have shared with Museum staff in local water bodies that. These sleek, muscular animals that I think of as the “teddy bears” of the water are regular residents of our area lakes. Calling a member of the weasel family a teddy bear might not quite be accurate, but every time I see one in the water I am delighted by their facial features and playful water antics.
The aquatic menu that otters select from is quite diverse and large. They will “munch” on small minnows, bass, sunfish, crayfish, frogs, or other aquatic animals. They forage in shallow waters along the banks, and will also eat birds or vegetation. Otters sleep and raise their young in dens such as empty burrows made by other animals, hollow logs, brush piles, or abandoned beaver lodges. Their home range is up to three miles.
During winter it is fun to observe their bounding tracks with their trail dragging between their legs, or their downhill slides towards the frozen lakes or bodies of water. Otters communicate by making sounds, like a bird chirping, a grunting sound when playing or grooming, and a high pitched scream when fighting or mating. When they get surprised or frightened, you may hear them snort.
Otters are known as playful animals. They like to wrestle, chase other otters, and play capture and release with live prey. Each of these "games" helps the otter become better coordinated and helps them fit into the social structure of the group. In the winter, you'll find otters traveling overland by bounding 3-4 times, pushing off with their hind feet, and then sliding 5-15 feet on the snow. Downhill slides are a bonus,
They are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for up to 4 minutes. They've actually been known to dive to depths of more than 40 feet. Their speed and agility in the water helps them outmaneuver and catch fish and other quick prey. After about a year each otter will strike out on its own and establish its own territory.
All otters must continually groom their fur to maintain its insulating qualities. Otters spend a substantial amount of time grooming, and many species of river otters have designated areas on land for drying and grooming their fur. Most vigorously dry themselves by rolling on the ground or rubbing against logs or vegetation.
For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibits, the Curiosity Center and Brain Teasers 2, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about exhibits and programs.