2017-11-01 / Community

When the otters pop up, it’s showtime

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Shotwell Wavering Family Filter Marsh has become home to many animals. Fish abound, wading birds visit and feed, and reptiles and amphibians inhabit the marsh grasses.

From the viewing station, you can see many of these – but one of the most enjoyable to spot and watch is the river otter, Lontra canadensis.

River otters are found throughout the United States. While they prefer freshwater, they will also visit and stay in slightly brackish water, commonly found upstream in our tidal rivers. They are uniformly brown, ranging in hue from tan to dark umber. They are quite capable of moving about on dry land, but are most agile and comfortable in water – their short legs have webbed toes and they sport long flattened tails. Their thick fur is water repellent, and, using their legs and tail to propel themselves, they move gracefully both above and below the water’s surface.

Stiff whiskers jut from the river otter’s nose and snout, and these tactile hairs are used for locating prey underwater. When they swim below the surface, their ears and nostrils close, allowing them to stay under for as long as four minutes. They generally grow to be about 11 pounds, with males larger than females, but they can reach weight 30 pounds in weight.

It is not uncommon to see them sitting up out of the water, looking around to make certain they’re safe from predators and to find food. Otters are well known for their playfulness, and are often seen chasing and wrestling one another. They are social animals, and this play serves important purposes, helping them bond and teaching younger otters skills for chasing prey.

They feed primarily on crayfish and fish, but will also eat insects, reptiles, amphibians and even small birds. They breed once a year, and litters generally have two or three young. The mother and her young form the nucleus of the social group, and adult males often move away to join groups of other males.

Visit the Conservancy, take a walk out to the marsh and look for a small, flattened brown head popping out of the water. It may be a river otter looking straight back at you.

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