On only a couple of occasions have I had the great, good fortune to see River Otters (Lontra canadensis) at Camp Salmen. They once were more common across North America - in the Northwest, Canada and the eastern third of the country- but, unfortunately, they have gotten scarce in many parts of the country because of loss of habitat, plus they really don’t like water pollution. They will turn up their noses and leave streams that are unpleasant to be in or where forage has been diminished. Also, their numbers were diminished because they were extensively trapped for their fur but this fashion trend is not as much in vogue as it once was.
The first otter I saw here was crossing Parish Parkway from one ditch to another. They have a distinctive hunched-over shape when they move and are easy to recognize, even at a distance, especially when they’re plain- as- day in the middle of the road. It apparently was making its way up the park’s Goldfish Bayou from Bayou Liberty, no doubt on the hunt. I was impressed they would scour for food so far up the tributaries off the main stream.
The second time I saw otters was just the other day, in frigid weather. There were two of them travelling side by side down the middle of Bayou Liberty. They would pop their heads up, grab a breath and go down for a minute, scouring the bottom while moving downstream. They would pop back up about twenty feet further and then repeat the process. I watched, transfixed by the beauty and uniqueness of it, until they disappeared around the bend. The fact that they were hunting in Bayou Liberty speaks well for the ecological health of this local water body.
Otters are cute as can be, with a cartoonish, mustachioed face like Teddy Roosevelt’s and a sturdy yet slinky body that moves in a lithe way. This isn’t hard to figure when you consider they are part of the weasel family but this particular model is supremely adapted for living in and around water. They have webbed feet, a sleek, streamlined body that is well insulated, closeable nostrils and ears to shut out water and stiff whiskers to help them find things to eat on the murky bottom.
What otters scare up for dinner includes crustaceans, clams, amphibians, slow moving fish and bottom dwelling insect larvae but they will even have a go at birds, reptiles and small mammals they find on the bank. On land they have a kind of loping gait and don’t move very fast on their short legs. It’s In the water where their moves are more agile.
Otters are very social animals and get together in sizable, mixed groups (young and old, male and female) in summer when they hunt (usually at night), groom each other, play with one another and live together in dens. The females tend to stay by themselves with the kids in the dens during the winter. Its fun to watch them frolic and cavort on nature shows on television or at the zoo but I’d really love to get to see this sometime in person.