Several people have shared with me recently how they have seen River Otters in their area. Otters are mammals that live in ponds, rivers, and creeks throughout Kentucky. During the 1900’s their numbers had fallen drastically due to habitat loss, water pollution, and trapping. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife reintroduced 355 otters in the 1990s and we have seen population growth throughout the state.
The semi-aquatic otter has a long, sleek body with a thick coat that protects them in the cold water. Otters live in polygamous family in dens along water ways. They are active all year and do not hibernate eating fish, amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, mussels and turtles. They will occasionally eat small mammals and birds such as baby rabbits or young ducklings.
Otters are curious and playful, making them a fun species to observe in nature. Winter is the best time to spot them as they are out more in daylight looking for food. Observing safely from a hill or bank overlooking the water is best as otters can display unpredictable aggressive behavior. Young otters learn survival skills via wrestling and chasing each other. Otters enjoy going down a mud slide into the water and have been observed playing with small pebbles and shells. Otters communicate through a variety of vocalizations and scent marking.
· Otters have webbed feet with long claws.
· Otters are nearsighted – one reason they may come close to you to take a look!
· Otters are very mobile and can travel 25 miles in one day.
· Otters can swim 7 miles per hour.
· Otters can experience “embryonic diapause” a reproductive strategy which holds the fertilized egg in a dormant state until implanting in the uterus, sometimes a year later.
· Otters can stay under water up to eight minutes.
Otters do sometimes conflict with sport fisherman and fish farmers in the region. They eat predominately non game fish but will eat bass and trout. If you are having conflict with otters getting into your pond or creek you can fence off the area using a 4’ high fence with 3 inches spaces or smaller. Otters do not climb or jump well. In addition you can provide hiding places for your fish population by sinking confer trees or slated baskets at the bottom of the water. Otters rarely go into farmyards to attack poultry like their relative the mink. The otter’s larger size makes them ungainly on land.
Otters are very sensitive to water pollution. One way to improve otter habitat is to curtail agricultural and chemical run off into your pond or stream. This can be done by using grass and woods buffers. Preventing stream erosion by fencing off livestock areas and not driving through water ways helps to keep the water clean.
Ame Vanorio is the founder/director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center in Falmouth, Ky. We teach environmental education programs and serve as a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. Call us with wildlife emergencies at 859-242-1037.