River otter

Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Mustelidae
Scientic name Lontra canadensis
French name Loutre de rivière
Size Length: 90 to 130 cm
Status Fairly common species

Distinguishing features An otter has thick, glossy dark brown fur, lighter on the belly. Its toes are webbed. It has a long, tapered tail that is broader at the base. The female is generally smaller than the male.

Reproduction The young are generally born between March and April, but also sometimes as early as January or as late as May. Since embryo implantation is delayed (not until two months before birth), gestation may last up to 12 and a half months. The female bears one to five young, or kits, per litter. The male leaves the female after the young are born and comes back to raise them once they are about six months old. Males and females reach sexual maturity at two years. The young learn to swim between the tenth and twelfth weeks.

Diet Otters eat mostly underwater, mainly by grazing in the muddy bottom where they find their prey with the help of their long whiskers. They eat mainly fish (sunfish, trout, catfish, perch, smolt, stickleback, etc.), but also molluscs, insects (dragonfly nymphs, diving beetles), crayfish, frogs and even turtles. Occasionally, they may eat mammals (muskrats, voles, shrews and young beavers) or ducks. Adult otters can consume up to 1.5 kg of food a day.

Predators They are hunted mainly by humans, for their fur, although they are sometimes attacked by wolves and coyotes. Young otters may fall prey to Canadian lynx, bobcats and great horned owls.

Habitat River otters are unique to North America, and live on the shores of lakes, rivers, marshes and ocean bays. They can even be found in the tundra, north of the tree line. They make burrows lined with grasses, leaves and twigs, in a hollow log, a stump or an abandoned beaver lodge. Sometimes otters make do with a large open-air nest of grass in a thicket in the midst of a marsh or on a riverbank. When they live in a burrow, they make two entrances, one underwater and the other above, so that they can escape any predators.

Ecology River otters are active year-round, hunting mostly at night. They can remain underwater for up to four minutes; their nostrils and ears close up to keep water out, and their heartbeat slows. They are very playful animals, and love to slide down slopes on their stomachs. An otter family’s territory ranges from 5 to 16 km². They have tufts of fur between their toes to keep them warm and for traction, as well as rough pads under their feet. In the water, they can stick their heads out and stretch their necks a long way to enable them to look around.

At the Biodôme The otters received a gift to mark the Biodôme’s 10th birthday: a new habitat that allows visitors to see them better. They are social, very playful, and very intelligent animals. We have to make constant changes in their habitat to stimulate them and provide natural objects to enhance their habitat. They are fed horsemeat and fish.