Adirondack Wildlife Series: North American River Otter

North American River Otter - Lutra Canadensis

For our nature lovers, Sacandaga Life is exploring a new feature in our daily blog; presenting our Adirondack Wildlife Series!  In this series, we will highlight animal or plant species native to our area, characterizing what makes them so special and vital to our treasured local ecosystem.

In this article, we take a look at an Adirondack favorite: the adorable, agile and highly adaptable river otter!

Did you know that the wolverine was driven to regional extinction in the Adirondacks by over hunting and trapping in the 19th century?  It’s true!  And with the poor wolverine’s demise, the native – and may we say, adorable – river otter became largest member of the weasel family in our region.

Adult otters weigh between 12 to 30 pounds and can range in length from between 35 to 51 inches.  As with most mammalian species, the females are often smaller in stature than males, although not by much in the case of our otter friends.  They have a round, tapered tail which accounts for approximately one-third of their total body length.  As for the rest, their bodies are generally long and cylindrical with short legs, brown fur color, usually darkest on top.

The river otter is a common resident throughout the Adirondack Park.  They can be found in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams all over the region.  For shelter, otters often favor abandoned beaver lodges, hollow logs, live under tangles of roots or within rocky ledges.  Their dens are usually near water and often have hidden underwater entrances.

For all their charm and cuteness, river otters are carnivores. Though they mostly eat fish, frogs, salamanders, reptiles, and aquatic invertebrates, occasionally, river otters may kill and eat birds and small mammals such as young beavers and muskrats.

Though some animals – coyotes, bobcats, foxes – are known to sporadically prey upon young otters, as adults the river otter has few natural predators.  This is due in small part to its strength, sharp teeth, aggressiveness when attacked, and aquatic habits.

The river otter has proven itself a remarkably agile and adaptable species, active during all months of the year.  Their webbed feet, strong legs, and long, muscular body (and tail) are well adapted to their semi-aquatic lifestyle.  Their furred soles enable them to climb over slippery rocks, logs, and ice.  In the water, an adult otter can swim at speeds up to 6 miles per hour!  They can remain submerged for several minutes at a time and reach depths of 45 feet or more!

With talents like these its no wonder these adorable critters have found so much success as a species in our region.  And truly, what would the Adirondacks be like without ‘em?

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Have you seen a river otter around your neck of the woods?  Let us know, or send us your pictures to

Photo Courtesy Dmitry Azovtsev Photography