Marine Biology

The Diet and Feeding Habits of the River Otter



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"The Diet and Feeding Habits of the River Otter"
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What animal could be more beloved than the River Otter? I have had many occassion to enjoy watching River Otters in the wild as well as watching otters as rehabilitation animals at the Northwoods Wildlife Center. The home I grew up in had a steep hill going down to the lake. Most winter mornings I would awake to several River Otters frolicking in the snow and sliding down our hill. I thought this to be a much more pleasant way to wake up than watching the news. Last winter, while hiking along a river, a few otters popped out of a hole in the ice to see what the noise was and found me crunching along through the snow. They did not flee, simply watched the stupid human clodding along in the snow. I could only hope to become as graceful as an otter someday. Secretly, I suppose they were laughing at me.

So, we know otters are cute and very difficult to look away from, but what and how do they eat? An otter's home territory can range from 15 to 30 miles, and an adult male will very often be a solitary hunter. Their diet consists of crustaceans, fish, mice, shrew, frogs, birds, and insects. The River Otter is well equipped to be a skilled hunter with its long streamlined body and webbed feet, the Otter can swim very quickly and dive deeply. Often the Otter will swim below the fish it hunts to see them better, while being more easily hidden from their prey. Mostly the Otter hunts using their superior underwater sight. When in deeper, murkier waters the Otter will use its whiskers to detect the vibrations of prey coming near. They are not tidy eaters. You will know you have an Otter nearby by the piles of animals parts and pieces left behind.

The River Otter does have very sharp teeth, which you will witness if you ever see them eating. They will hunt during the day or at night, often depending on whether there are a lot of people living near their territory. Though it looks like it might be fun to jump in the river and play with an Otter, that would obviously be ill advised. Much like a feline, their idea of playing could feel to a human like being attacked. It is always better to watch from afar.

We have noticed, at the wildlife rehabilitation center where I work, that the River Otter has little fear of humans, and actually, the Otter poses a difficult project as a rehab animal in that it will very easily imprint on humans. Imprinting on humans is when an animal sees you, a human, as a friend. It is dangerous to release an imprinted animal back into the wild as it poses a danger to humans and to itself. An imprinted Otter, for example would approach a human and beg for food, just as your pet dog might. I believe that Otters imprint so quickly because they are actually highly intelligent. Because of this intelligence, if they see an easy way to get food they will continue to act on it until the human gets violent in some cases, or the Otter might get a bit too pushy as well.

Once again, nature shows us that it can create an animal which can truly enjoy life while sustaining its every need. River Otters make catching food look easier than a trip to the grocery store. I hope you get an opportunity to watch one in the wild!

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