What critter can close off its nostrils to keep water out while swimming?
The North American River Otter! Not only can he close off his nose, he can also close off his ears and a nictitating membrane (a third eyelid that is transparent or translucent) protects his eyes. He can hold his breath for eight minutes! He is made for swimming.
Otters have a very muscular tail that is 40% of its body’s length. Using a strong undulating movement, a river otter can swim 8 miles an hour and can dive to 36 feet. Their powerful back feet provide the kick or propulsion and their front feet paddle through the water. All their feet are webbed. Their body is streamlined for swimming with a narrow body and a flattened head. They will grow to about four feet in length and weigh between 11 and 30 pounds with the male usually larger than the female.
Otters are brown-to-gray on top with a lighter silvery fur underneath and on their face. Their fur is short and dense with darker coarse guard hairs that repel water.
These otters are common throughout North America except for the arid deserts and the Arctic. They live in both fresh and salt water, in streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.
Otters are talkative with whistles, buzzes, twitters, chirps and growls. Do not frighten these guys or they will scream so loud it will be heard for one and one-half miles! They are also playful – playing in the snow or mud, chasing their tails, playing in the water or burrowing in the snow.
Meals have a lot of variety – fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, birds’ eggs, birds and reptiles. They use their whiskers to locate prey. Aquatic plants and some small mammals such as rabbits round out their diet. With their high metabolism, they eat frequently.
River otters breed in winter and early spring giving birth to up to three cubs that weigh four to six ounces. Birth usually happens around April and May in a den the female makes in the bank of a stream, in an old beaver’s lodge or even in a hollow tree. The mother will coax the cubs into the water when they are about two months old where their natural ability takes over. The family will stay together for seven to eight months or until the next litter arrives. Otters live up to eight to twelve years.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.