Indiana State Mammal
River Otter (common name)
Lontra canadensis(scientific name)
River otters are Indiana natives, but they all but disappeared in 1942. Loss of habitat, pollution, and trapping the animals for fur all contributed to the near-disappearance. The situation was not remedied until 1994, when river otters were finally placed on the state’s endangered species list. After that, 303 otters from Louisiana were gradually introduced into Indiana's watersheds, and by 2005 the otters were no longer considered endangered. It’s still illegal to deliberately trap an otter in Indiana, however.
ALSO KNOWN AS
River otters have long, narrow bodies almost the same width from head to tail; short legs with webbed, five-toed feet; and tapered tails that make up about one third of the animals' length. This body shape helps the otter swim well. The otter’s face is wide, with a large black nose, wide muzzle, small black eyes, and very small, rounded ears set close to its head. Both ears and nostrils close when the otter dives under water.
The otter’s fur is one of its most important adaptations and one of the reasons it’s endangered in many areas. The short, dense, waterproof fur is shiny and ranges from light brown to black. An otter’s chin, throat, and the area around the mouth are usually a lighter gray color. Under the waterproof layer is a second layer of finer fur that helps keep the animal warm when wet. This coat is attractive material for furriers. An otter also has a layer of fat just under its skin that insulates it in winter.
Up to 20 years; average of 9 years in the wild
Forests, especially pine, with lakes, rivers, ponds or swamps.
Range: Historically throughout the U.S. and Canada. Today river otters are found throughout most of Canada and in the eastern and northwestern parts of the U.S. Loss of habitat, pollution, and hunting have all reduced the population.
Conservation status: Least Concern. Although otters are extinct, endangered, or protected in many states, they are common in others, and about half of U.S. states still have otter hunting seasons.
Otters are both playful and solitary. Males and females don’t normally interact outside mating season. Otters have burrows with multiple entrances at the edge of a body of water. They hunt with the help of sensory hairs called vibrissae, which grow out of their snouts. These help them sense movement in the water, which in turn helps them find fish, mollusks, and other foods.
River otters mate once a year, sometime from December to April. Gestation is about 62 days, but because implantation is delayed, litters of up to six pups are born almost a year later. Newborn otters are born with fur and claws but are blind and have no teeth. Young otters first open their eyes 30 to 38 days after birth. They become active at five to six weeks, start swimming at around eight weeks, and are weaned at 12 weeks. Female otters care for their young alone. Young otters leave home when they are one year old, before the arrival of the next litter.
Top land speed recorded: 18 mph (29 kph)
Fish, crayfish, and mollusks
Breeding interval: Annual
Birthing period: February–April
Average litter size: 2–3 pups
Size at birth: 3.8–6 oz (110–170 g)
Click to enlarge an image
Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press