Species Overview

Taxonomic Classification

   Kingdom:  Metazoa

    Phylum:    Chordata

    Class:       Mammalia

    Order:      Carnivora

    Family:     Mustelidae

General Description:

The River Otter has a long, streamlined body which is very muscular and broadest at the hips. They have short legs and small ears that lay back against the head. Otters have strongly webbed hind feet which are adapted for their aquatic lifestyle. Their tail is about 1/3 as long as the head and body, and is very rudder-like. They have nictitating membrane over their eye which is used under water to protect the eye, while allowing them to see clearly. The River Otter’s coat is commonly brown to brownish gray in color and is composed of a dense undercoat covered by longer guard hairs. An average adult ranges between 3 and 4 foot in length and weighs between 11 and 23 pounds.  


Otters are fantastic swimmers, to do so they paddle and flex their hind legs and tail. They can swim around 6 mph, dive around 60 foot deep, and stay submerged beneath the water for over 4 minutes time. About half the otter’s time is spent sleeping or “playing.” On land they travel several mile areas, creating well-defined trails which they use year after year. During the winter they will dig elaborate tunnels and feeding dens around bodies of water.

Food and Social Habits:

Otters feed on fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, crayfish, mussels, some plant matter, and about anything they can catch. Small food is commonly eaten on the water, while larger food is brought to the shore and eaten. Any food that is not finished is left, and becomes available to other animals. Otters are often found in family groups which consist of a female and her pups. Other groups may consist of a male, female, and a litter of pups, while others may consist of a group of males. The family groups are commonly dominated by the female, but there is no apparent leader in the male groups. Fighting seldom occurs between otters, but they are wary of strange individuals.