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River Otter Lontra canadensis, formerly Lutra canadensis, does not really have a natural habitat at Race Rocks because they usually inhabit small bays and inlets around Vancouver Island.
River Otter has a long slender streamlined body, thick tapered tail, and short legs. The face is short with small ears. The fur is dark brown or almost black above with lighter underside. The throat and cheeks are usually golden brown. The fur is dense and soft for insulation in the water. The feet are completely webbed. The Northern River Otter is related to weasels, fishers, martens and mink.
Once abundant in U.S. and Canadian rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, river otters have suffered from fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides, and other threats. Today, they can be found in parts of Canada, the Northwest, upper Great Lakes area, New England, and Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.
Otters munch from an aquatic menu. Their favorites are fish such as suckers, minnows, sunfish, bass, and minnows. Their second choice is crayfish, then frogs and miscellaneous animals. They like to forage near shorelines, overhanging banks, and areas where fish are found.
They will also eat birds and vegetation. Otters need about 3 square miles to find all of this food. Otters will hang out at a few of their favorite spots in this large area, depending on where the eating is good. They mark their territory using scent from their feces, urine, and musk.
Life Cycle:River otters reach sexual maturity when they are two years or older. They breed in March-April and birth in late winter/early spring, about a year later. Litter size varies from one to six, but litters of two or three are most common.
Young otters, called kits, are helpless at birth. Their eyes do not open until they are at least three weeks old. The moms are devoted parents, teaching their children to swim. Moms even catch and release prey to improve the young ottersâ€™ foraging skills. Otter dads rarely help raise their young.
Baby otters grow quickly, exploring outside the den when they are about two months old. Young otters can care for themselves in about five or six months, but the family usually stays together for a few months longer, often until the birth of a new litter. The young otters leave home when they are about 12 to 13 months of age.
River otters love to be in, under, and around water, their short legs can carry them very well on land. When they are on land the body is held at an arching position as they run, with their tails held out stiff. The tail is used for balance while on land. The walk is very awkward and almost a run. River otters hump up their backs and straighten their body out again, kind of like an inchworm.
The otters get good traction from the four rough bumps on their hind paws. These bumps give them good traction on slippery surfaces. Compared to a deer or bobcat, the river otter is pretty slow, but it can outrun a human. Otters can attain a speed of 18 mph.
Adaptations:In the water river otters are at their best. They have adapted perfectly to the aquatic lifestyle. Being well suited to swim and dive, their slippery hydrodynamic form exemplifies the perfect adaptation to an amphibious way of life. Otters have webbed paws, with small dexterous front paws and large, powerful hind paws. The muscular tail is thick and flat at the base, tapering to a point. Otters use their hind limbs and undulating movement of their tail as the main source of propulsion through water, but they may also use their forelimbs for paddling.
Otters have excellent vision, especially when theyâ€™re under water. This helps them in catching prey. Stiff whiskers, which are sensitive to water turbulence, are another adaptation to finding prey in muddy or dark waters. The thumbs on the front paws show freedom of movement, and can be opposed when picking up, holding small objects or assisting in eating their prey. Sometimes, river otters will swim together in a circle, creating a whirlpool in the water. This brings up any bottom dwelling fish for them to eat.
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