Thursday, April 22, 2010

River otters are amphibious creatures known for their intelligence and playful nature. They can be found swimming in rivers, lakes and even in ocean bays. Their streamlined, sinuous bodies and long flattened tail helps propel the otter gracefully through the clear waters of North America. Otters are also excellent hunters, using sensory hairs on the snout called vibrissae to sense water turbulence that help them locate their meal of fish, mollusks and other small invertebrate.

Though solitary and wary of strangers, river otters can be sociable and easily domesticated creatures. They also are incredibly playful. Otters like to wrestle, chase one another around and slide down slick or snow-covered riverbanks. No hibernation for these little guys; otters are active year round. A layer of fat right underneath the skin and thick fur helps protect them even in the coldest of waters and winters.

River otter's fur consists of two layers; a coarse, waterproof outer coat and a softer, finer layer that keeps the animal warm. When in the water air bubbles cling to the outer hairs, covering the otter in what appears to be a silvery sheen. Unfortunately for otters, people enjoy their luxurious coats as well and are hunted their pelts. The popularity of otter fur outerwear has contributed to the dramatic decrease of river otters for the past 200 years. However, hunting isn't the only cause for the river otter's demise.

Although once abundant in North America, river otters have suffered greatly from habitat loss, water pollution, the fur trade and other threats. Historically, river otters were found in great numbers in the waterways and coastal areas throughout Canada and the United States. Today, river otters have been virtually eliminated in many parts of their original range. Heavily populated areas in the Midwest, East Coast and the Southeast have been greatly affected. Thanks to successful reintroduction efforts, otter populations are slowly being restored in many of these states, and lucky for us, Indiana is one of them.

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