Friday, March 13, 2015

River Otter

River Otter
On one of my recent woodland hikes I came across otter tracks and slides.  How lucky we are to live in a province where there is rich habitat for such beautiful animals.

The Otter (Lutra canadensis) is a member of the Mustelidae family.  Here in New Brunswick it has several Mustelid 'cousins'.  These include the short-tailed weasel, the long-tailed weasel, the mink, the marten, and the fisher.  

The otter is equally at home on land or in the water.  It is well adapted to its aquatic habitat.  It has a very streamlined body, small ears and rounded face, short legs with large, webbed feet and a long, rudder-like tail.  The fur is very fine and dense so it sheds water well.  It propels itself with its very powerful tail and by undulating its body.  It also uses its feet and legs.

The coat is a dark brown colour but appears black when wet.  They are about 120 cm long (4 ft) and weigh 5-13 Kg (10-30 lbs.)  They live in dens in river banks and slide down the bank to the water below.  This is especially evident in winter.  See the heavily used slide area below.  The den is likely above this area.

Otter Slide

 The otter's diet includes mainly fish, but also crayfish and other invertebrates, turtles, amphibians, snakes, and other vertebrates such as waterfowl, muskrats and other rodents.  In summer it also eats some vegetation.

Most kits are born in March or April, with an average litter size of 2 or 3.  They emerge from the den at about 2 to 3 months of age.  They do not know how to swim at first and are taught by their mother who pushes them in the water and begins giving them swimming lessons.

On land they ambulate by mainly bounding in an undulating movement.  When moving quickly the tracks are in a 2 and 2 pattern about 33 cm (13 inches) apart.  See below.  These tracks were about 12 to 14 inches apart.

Presumed Otter Tracks

Otter Tracks
 The otter's fur is very dense.  This makes it highly sought after by trappers.  There is an active fur industry in New Brunswick.  This is fuelled by market prices for fur.  There is a 15-week trapping season and in 2013 to 2014, 745 otters were trapped.  Each pelt brought $64.05 (down from $115.17 the year before) with a total value for the province of $48,100.08 (down from $85,571 the year before).  The highest numbers of otters were taken from York and Charlotte counties.  A Fur Harvester's Licence costs $54 and the season this past year was from Oct. 18 to Jan. 31.

Otters are playful animals.  It is a real joy to be canoeing or hiking along one of our streams and come upon a group of otters 'playing'.  They like to play hide-and-go-seek with canoeists and are often seen frolicking up and down their mud slides, pushing and jostling one another like a group of children.  They are one of nature's delights.

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