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North American River Otter

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo

Did You Know?

  • North American river otters can hold their breath underwater for up to 8 minutes.
  • Long, sensory whiskers on their muzzles help them detect prey in cloudy water.
  • By 1989, this species had dropped to a low of just 100 individuals in Illinois due to habitat loss, pollution, and fur trapping. However, water quality improvements and trapping regulations helped make reintroductions successful; the population is now stable with more than 30,000 otters in Illinois.

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Scientific Name: Lontra canadensis

Class: Mammalia

Diet: Fish (also amphibians, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, mollusks, small mammals, and fruit)

Range: Canada and the United States

Endangered Status: Least Concern

More Information

North American river otters are a keystone species, vital within their ecosystems. On average, they are 5 feet long and weigh up to 30 pounds. These otters have long, streamlined bodies that help them move easily through the water, propelled by webbed feet and a long tail. Their waterproof brown fur helps them retain warmth.

River otters only live in areas with permanent water sources, such as rivers, creeks, and streams. They often use burrows that have been abandoned by beavers or muskrats. Their social structures are varied; some live alone, some live in families, and others live in groups of adult males. Young otters are called kits and will take to the water just two months after they are born.

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