North American River Otter

Lontra canadensis

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Not to be confused with the Sea Otter, the River Otter is a freshwater semiaquatic mammal found throughout North America. It is identified by its long, stocky body with short legs and small head. Most of the animal’s length is due to its tapered tail, which is used to provide stabilization on land and maneuverability in the water.

River Otters are predators who live close to the banks of streams, lakes and rivers. They feed mostly on fish and birds, sometimes ambushing their prey but mostly catching it after a sustained chase. Their high energy lifestyle requires the otter to eat almost continuously, so much of its day is spent hunting. RIver Otters generally congregate in familial groups headed by a female. They are highly sociable and can often be seen a playing, chasing, grooming and even hunting in groups.

Range and Habitat

Historically, river otters were found as far south as Arizona and as far east as portions of New England. Their range has decreased dramatically, however, and today they are found mostly in the northwestern part of the continent. Their name is a misnomer, as they dwell in a variety of aquatic habitats, not just rivers.

Conservation Status

Threatened. Like the endangered Sea Otter, the River Otter was once widely hunted for its pelt. The fur was used in coats, hats and other human apparel. Although no longer harvested for this purpose, River Otter numbers have continued to drop over the last century. The species is highly susceptible to waterborne toxins introduced by humans and have continued to die out as waterways have become more polluted. The largest populations now occur in the northwestern parts of the United States and Canada.