NC Wildlife Success Story: American River Otter

Even as one of the most widely distributed mammals currently in the United States, the American river otter (Lutra canadensis lataxina) is an exciting sight for fishermen, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts. With a playful nature (often times seen treading water to take in surroundings, or sliding down mud banks) partnered with the otter’s extreme curiosity, the American river otter commonly approaches boats and people on shore, despite their nocturnal nature.

The American river otter is considered an important aquatic predator due to its regulation of undesirable fish populations in marine and freshwater waterways ranging from slow moving, warm coastal streams and marshes, to rapid, cold moving mountain streams.

The American river otter is built for aquatic life. With short, dense waterproof fur, hind feet pads for traction on slippery surfaces, webbed feet and retractable claws, and whiskers highly sensitive to help capture prey in murky waters, the otter has a large appetite for fish and crayfish, and occasionally aquatic amphibians and crabs. They tend to cluster in groups of five to ten otters and inhabit dens along banks vacated by other animals.

In the early 1500’s, European settlers began trapping otters and exporting their pelts as a part of the high-end fur trade. As a result of the over-trapping and the 20th century’s wetland drainage and water pollution, the otter population began to decline By the late 1930’s, otters were nearly extinct in western North Carolina.

To restore the otter population, the North Carolina Resources Commission released 49 otters in the western part of NC from 1990-1995. As a result, the otter populations began to increase and have since been fully restored in North Carolina.


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