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Discover Nature: River Otters

A river otter with dark brown-gray fur and white whiskers stands on a stump in the middle of a stream with brownish-green water.
North American river otters are mostly nocturnal and active all year. Watch for these playful furbearers on ice and in water this week.

This week on Discover Nature, watch for river otters on frozen water.

Well suited for life in water, otters have streamlined bodies, fully webbed feet, and long, tapered tails.  Dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat keep them insulated. 

Otters are graceful, powerful swimmers and can remain submerged for three to four minutes.  On land, they travel with a loping gait, and on snow or ice, they alternate loping with sliding. 

River otters live in streams, rivers, and lakes, usually bordered by forest. They burrow under large tree roots, rocky ledges, fallen trees, or thickets, often in former homes of muskrats, beavers, and woodchucks. 

A century ago, otters were nearly eliminated from Missouri due to unregulated harvest. Thanks to restoration efforts, and improved stream conditions, otters have made a comeback across our state. 

Otters help control aquatic prey populations, and, in turn, are eaten by bobcats, coyotes, and other large predators. 

Keep an eye on the waterline this week, and watch for these playful furbearers’ antics on ice. 

Learn more about Missouri’s river otters and where to see them with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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