Saturday, December 30, 2006


Winter is the time of year when River Otters (Lutra canadensis) are spotted along the boardwalk and canoe trail. We don't know where the Four Holes Swamp otters spend the remainder of the year, but when the weather and water turn cool, otter sightings increase. Maybe it is the generally higher water levels or the absence or inactivity in the reptile population, especially alligators.

Otters spend the majority of their time in the water and much of that time under it. They can spend up to four minutes below the water's surface with their ears and nostrils sealed as they hunt for crayfish, fish, frogs, mollusks, and snails. Although the majority of their dives do not result in captured prey, otters are well-designed for high-speed maneuverability underwater.

Otters can also be playful during their hunting forays. Today on the canoe trail, an otter was observed chasing a Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) into the water from of its sunning perch on a log. The pleasure derived from popping up next to the turtle and surprising it appeared to be the only motivation the otter needed. This is not the first time this behavior has been observed here in the swamp.

Otters give birth to 2-4 pups between late winter and early spring. The young can fend for themselves around six months, but generally stay with their mom for a year. Although mom will keep her newborn pups out of view, the spring is a wonderful time to visit the Francis Beidler Forest.

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