All About New York’s River Otters

TOS_OtterOne summer season day, I used to be stress-free on the financial institution of a secluded pond watching mallard geese forage when a darkish form broke the stillness of the water. It was a North American river otter, swimming with its head and again rising from the floor, modern physique over 2 ft lengthy, tapered tail trailing behind. It dove beneath the floor with out a splash. Seconds later, its spherical head emerged on the fringe of the pond. We stared at one another.Making eye contact with a river otter was a primary for me, and certain uncommon for the animal as properly. River otters (Lontra canadensis) are usually most energetic from nightfall by way of daybreak. This member of the weasel household will journey giant distances by way of its territory, over land and thru water, and might discover as much as 20 miles of waterway seeking prey. Otters could hunt and swim collectively in household teams of a mom and infants or in social teams. They’re glorious swimmers, aided by quite a few traits that assist them maneuver underwater.“Their our bodies are so versatile,” mentioned Margaret Gillespie, a naturalist at Squam Lakes Pure Science Middle in New Hampshire. “The best way they manipulate themselves is fairly wonderful.”Otters swim acrobatically, curling and weaving by way of the water. Utilizing their highly effective webbed hind ft and their sturdy tails, which additionally assist to steer, otters could swim as quick as 8 miles per hour. For comparability, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps tops out at 5 miles per hour, whereas a extra common human swimmer could attain 2 miles per hour.River otters have dense fur that gives insulation, and coarse guard hairs that repel water. They can shut valves of their nostril and ears whereas swimming and diving, and so they have a clear third eyelid, which features like swimming goggles. At nighttime, in darkish or murky water, nevertheless, sight turns into much less essential than contact, and river otters brush their delicate whiskers by way of the water and alongside the underside of a pond or river feeling for motion – maybe a crayfish crawling within the mud between rocks.Otters primarily hunt fish and shellfish, however they are going to eat all kinds of prey together with frogs, turtles, birds, and even small mammals. Highly effective jaws and sharp enamel crunch by way of crayfish shells and fish bones. As a result of catching fish is troublesome for river otters in a powerful present, they typically hunt in nonetheless water, together with beaver ponds, in keeping with Gillespie. Within the late 1800s, the beaver inhabitants in New Hampshire had been nearly eradicated, largely attributable to unregulated harvest through the fur commerce and habitat loss. Because of this, otter numbers have been additionally dangerously low. As beaver populations recovered within the mid-1900s, and their dams modified the circulation of water, the river otter inhabitants grew as properly. Turtles, amphibians, and muskrats additionally use beaver ponds – and generally turn into otter prey.Otter pups – sometimes between one and three – are born in late winter, furred, toothless, and with their eyes closed. River otters typically increase their younger in deserted beaver lodges. Otter infants can’t swim for the primary a number of weeks of their lives, and reluctant adolescents keep away from the water till their mom drags them in when they’re about 2 months outdated. By late spring, nevertheless, the pups are foraging with their mom, and by subsequent winter they’ll be on their very own.River otters rely upon – and might be indicators of – a wholesome and clear ecosystem. As a result of they’re on the prime of an extended meals chain, they could bioaccumulate concentrations of mercury, lead, and PCBs from their prey, which might have an effect on their nervous and endocrine programs, impacting social habits and pup survival. They might turn into malnourished if air pollution kills their prey. A secure or rising inhabitants of river otters is an efficient indicator {that a} watershed is prospering: if they’re wholesome, creatures decrease within the meals chain are probably doing properly.I felt so fortunate to see a river otter that summer season day, though the expertise was transient. Quickly after I noticed it, the otter dove in direction of the sting of the pond and ran up the financial institution by way of thick brush. This lovely animal was a reminder of why we work to preserve wild land and maintain waterways clear and freed from air pollution.Learn extra about New York wildlife right here.Rey Katz is a author who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and maintains a web site: Illustration by Adelaide Murphy Tyrol. The Outdoors Story is assigned and edited by Northern Woodlands journal and sponsored by the Wellborn Ecology Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Basis.Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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