North American River Otter

Lontra Canadensis

Scientific Name

North American River Otter:  
Lontra Canadensis

Distribution and Habitat

Geographic Range

North American river otters are found throughout Alaska, Canada and the contiguous United States.

Natural Habitat

Otters enjoy a variety of habitats but spend most of their time in or near streams, rivers, lakes and marshes. They often dig a den in their home territory.

Physical Characteristics

  • River otters possess a long, streamlined (hydrodynamic) body with a long neck, short powerful legs, a flat head, strong claws, whiskers and webbed feet. Their muscular tail is thick and flat, tapering to a point, which helps them to propel themselves through the water.  They have rich brown fur on top with a silvery sheen on the bottom, no fur on their nose. Otters trap air between their body and fur and that air heats up with their body heat. This air pocket keeps the otters warm while swimming in cold water. As you watch the otters swim, you will notice a lot of bubbles. That is the warm air escaping. Once an otter is done swimming it is important for them to groom their fur to re-trap the air lost and get them ready for their next venture into the water. Its vibrissae, or whiskers, are long and thick, enhancing sensory perception underwater and on land.The average size is 18 pounds and 40 inches long.  Males can be larger.

Quick Facts

  1. Otters are very vocal and communicate with a large variety of calls, such as whistles, buzzes, twitters, staccato chuckles and chirps.

  2. Otters may swim in circles, creating a whirlpool, which brings up fish hiding on the bottom of the river or lake.

  3. The river otter, a member of the weasel family, is equally versatile in the water and on land.


Otter Creek

Conservation Status

Vulnerable: The North American River Otter population has been seriously depleted and its protection is not secured

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This member of the Mustelidae family eats fish, crustaceans, insects, birds, muskrats, fish, frogs, rodents, turtles and clams. At the Zoo, they are fed fish, a commercially prepared diet, and various extras including bones, hard boiled eggs, and carrots.