When strolling through a zoo, visitors often gather to observe North American river otters at play. Otters enjoy wrestling with one another, sleeping in a big pile and sliding down rocks into the water. The river otter – with its long, sleek body, flat tail and water-repellent, two-layered coat – is built for fast, graceful swimming.
River otter fur has two layers. The outer coat is thick and waterproof with “guard hairs,” while the inner layer is made up of soft fine furs. Beneath their second coat is a dense layer of fat that helps keep the animal warm in cool weather conditions.
In their maturity, river otter fur has a rich blackish-brown color, with its belly being lighter in hue. Their coat often has a grayish tint at the chin and throat areas.
Otters – part of the weasel family of skunks, badgers and minks – can survive on both water and land. They are graceful swimmers, achieving speeds of about six miles per hour and depths of over sixty feet. They are also skilled hunters, utilizing vibrissae – or strong sensory whisker hairs – on their snout to navigate the waters and locate prey (like mollusks, frogs, crabs and fish).
Over the last 200 years, the popularity of river otter fur fashions have contributed to a decrease in the wild animal population. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “for the last ten years, between 1,000 and 2,400 otters have been harvested annually in Alaska for their pelts.”
Additionally, this wildlife species is highly sensitive to habitat loss and environmental pollution. Learn more facts about the North American river otter.
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Photo Credits: Jodi Kendall. Images taken at the Turtle Back Zoo.