River Otter

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday is our big water weasel: the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis).

Weighing in at roughly fifteen pounds and three foot long, River Otters are our biggest member of the weasel family. Their pelt is dense and oily-brown across their long, serpentine body. Their legs short and stocky with wide, webbed toes. Their tail is long and broad, thick with muscle as it tapers to the tip. Their tiny ears, long whiskers, beaded eyes, and round dark nose give them an indisputable teddy bear demeanor and cat-like elegance. River Otters use their broad tails, long bodies, and webbed feet to shuttle through the water and wrestle with fish. Their long whiskers let them feel prey in the dark, muddy waters they hunt. Their diet is entirely carnivorous, with their preference being fish, then crustaceans. They will also eat ducklings, frogs, and rails if encountered. In freshwater, their main predator is the American Alligator.

They’re chiefly nocturnal and cycle through their favorite haunts in our creeks, salt marshes, ponds, and swamps over the course of the night. They show little preference for salt or not on Edisto. River Otters are an intelligent and social aquatic mammal that’s prone to fits of frolicking and curiosity as it stalks our creeks and warily watches us from the water’s surface. They travel in small family groups of a few Otters a piece and can be heard in the dead of night grunting, splashing, slipping, and sliding over mud and berm as they roughhouse, slither, and gallop through the brush. Often, the only signs we ever see of their presence are webbed footprints, muddy tail drags, and a scattering of fish scales across a trail.

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