Otters live in unpolluted lakes, rivers, streams and ponds all across the North American continent. They are graceful swimmers with streamline bodies, waterproof fur, webbed toes, and a long tapered flat tail that operates as a stern as they maneuver in the water. Their aquatic adaptations paired with sharp canine teeth and claws make them efficient hunters in the water where they feed on fish, crayfish, shellfish, insects, and the occasional frog or snake.
Otters routinely move across surprisingly long stretches of land to stake out new territory on a different body of water, but you will most likely see them playing in small family groups at the water’s edge.
Otters belong to the Mustelidae or weasel family. Otters have been driven to dangerously low numbers in the mid 1800-1900’s when they were hunted for their valuable pelts. Today, they are not listed as endangered or threatened, but they will certainly suffer as habitat disappears and pollution destroys the water and food sources they rely on.
Northern river otters are social animals. Females drive away males during the spring when they are ready to give birth. The females build nests in mudbanks or tree trunks to hold a litter of one to five pups. Ten to twelve weeks later, the male will return to help raise the young. The young will stay with their parents for approximately two years and then disperse to claim their own territory and start a family. Otters can live up to 10 years in the wild.
River otter are most active in the early evening and throughout the early morning. They may occupy up to 50 miles of a stream throughout the course of a year. Females have much smaller home ranges, usually about seven miles of a stream. They all hunt by diving and chasing their prey under water and can stay submerged for up to five minutes.
River otter sometimes become a nuisance for pond owners and commercial fish farmers. A family group can clean out a small catfish or bass/bream farm pond in a short time. No fumigants or repellants are approved for use on otters. Construct a 3" x 3" mesh wire fence to protect a small pond or construct a wall along the water’s edge that makes it difficult for the otters to exit the water. Otters can be removed by trapping on private lands in Alabama if you have a license. Otters rarely pose a significant problem and lethal measures of control are rarely necessary.