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River otters are playful inhabitants of Florida’s watersheds
River otters are often seen splashing around, playing and swimming in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams and coastal marshes. These small (17-pound), brown, furry mammals delight in sliding down riverbanks and body surfing through the water.
Otters are adapted to spending their lives in the water and rarely stray very far from a water body. Their nostrils and ears close to keep water out. Their webbed feet and long, thick tail propel them through the water very quickly.
The North American river otter likes to eat fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects. They have eyesight that lets them see well above and below water, but they also rely on very keen hearing and smell to detect their food. Sensitive whiskers help find food on lake and river bottoms.
When not eating, otters are curious and playful. They are known to chase sticks, play hide and seek and roll around in the grass. While playing, they make a variety of sounds: chirps, barks, whistles, grunts, squeals and growls.
River otter dens are called holts and are dug into a riverbank or hollow log. A typical holt has a main entrance underwater, leading to a small space above water and several holes to allow air in. Baby river otters, called kits, are usually born in these dens in the spring and don’t leave for several months. They are born in litters of one to five kits.
Because they live in the water, otters are directly impacted by water pollution. Florida has many otters, but they are endangered in some parts of the United States due to hunting and loss of habitat. Their primary enemies are water pollution, air pollution and hunters. They are especially harmed by mercury in the water supply.
Fortunately, as humans act to protect the Earth’s water resources, the otters’ watery home is preserved. Otter populations are slowly increasing, and as long as we take steps to keep our waterways clean, our furry friends will have a place to play for a long time to come.
To learn more about otters — and the district’s otter mascot — visit Raleigh’s Den.