North American River Otters

River otters have incredible adaptations for life in the river. Learn about some of them, and the three otters who live at The Wild Center and their own stories of how they came to swim in the Adirondacks.

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A Snowman's Chance In Hell

If you want more, here they are tearing up their annual snowman.

Have You Seen an Otter?

Otters live in water and the thick fur keeps them warm. There may be as many as 500,000 hairs per square inch (humans, not counting bald ones, average around 2,200 hairs in the same space). Otters were historically found throughout New York and other northern states in the U.S. Unregulated harvesting for their fur before 1936, water pollution and loss of habitat lead to their decline and a 9 year moratorium on trapping allowed otter populations to recover in the Adirondacks and Catskills. But otters were not seen in Central and Western New York. In 1995 an otter reintroduction program was initiated.  279 otters were live trapped in areas where they were plentiful and were relocated to 18 locations throughout the state. In 2000 baby otters were seen in those areas and the reintroduction appeared to be working as populations expanded and the program was stopped. The NYS DEC would like to know if you have seen otters or signs of their activities; email them at: fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

The Adirondacks is a great place to see otters in the wild.  During the winter, if you come to The Wild Center, you might see some at dawn or dusk by the causeway heading south out of Tupper Lake.  The Raquette River flows under the bridge and there is often open water there and staff have seen otters catching fish and eating them on the ice.

Otter Babies

Otters are born in the Spring; typically in March or April.  Mom will bear between 1 and 5 young, but usually just 2 or 3.  The young otters stick with mom for almost a year before they venture out on their own. Males do not play any role in raising the young. When you see a group of otters in the wild it is likely to be a mom with her young, as otters are not very social and are found alone about 60% of the time. 

This movie shows Remy as a baby, learning to swim at his first home at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Squirt

Squirt was born in Michigan in 2001. She was found as a pup by a dog in a corn field and rescued. Squirt spent her early years at the Clinch Park Zoo in Traverse City, Michigan with keeper Tracy Mikoski, who wrote a book about her experience.  When that zoo closed in 2006 Squirt was flown to The Wild Center for the grand opening. Squirt weighs about 16 pounds and is the darkest brown of the four otters. She likes to collect rocks so if you see a pile of rocks on land you'll know that Squirt collected and arranged them there.

Squirt has her own book

River Otter Sounds

Ever wanted to know what a River Otter sounds like? River otters are social creatures that use a variety of sounds to communicate. They chirp, grunt and even growl. Whether one is alerting another otter of an approaching predator or simply trying to get Mom's attention, you're likely to hear a river otter before you see it.

Growl

Grunts and Squeaks

Chirps

Louie

Louie was found alongside a road in Montana in 2002 and saved by a rehabilitator. He spent some time at the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park prior to transfer to the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park in Watertown. It took longer than expected for that zoo to build an otter exhibit, so he was loaned to The Wild Center in October 2006 while they raised funds. Louie moved back to Watertown for the opening of the new exhibit, but did not get along well with the other otters that they had acquired. Since Louie had been "fixed" and they wanted to start on a breeding program Louie moved back to The Wild Center permanently. 

Louie is the largest and lightest brown otter at the museum.  He weighs about 20 pounds.

Louie really likes boxes and pumpkins.

Food Finding Skills

Nearsighted on land, river otter eyes are specially adapted to see potential food items in dark and murky waters.  Their abundant and sensitive whiskers are useful in detecting vibrations made by prey as they swim away.

How Much do Otters Eat?

Otters eat a lot!  Our boys typically weigh about 20 pounds and the girls about 16 pounds.  Their diet at The WIld Center is about 1/3 meat and 2/3 fish; typically trout, smelt, pollock or catfish.  We feed them between 1.4 and 1.75 pounds of food daily which is a substantial portion of their body weight. Otters are most active in the wild at dawn and dusk.  They are high energy or fast asleep; and can sleep up to 16 hours per day.  They do not hibernate.