Wednesday, May 30, 2007

River Otter

It has been many weeks since any appreciable rain has fallen in Four Holes Swamp. Much of the 1.75-mile boardwalk at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest stands above mud and not water. However, this situation provides an opportunity for visitiors to investigate the many types of wildlife tracks left in the mud.

Beavers arrived this year and their tracks can be seen next to the numerous young Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees that have been chewed down. The long-toed tracks of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) can be seen as the birds hunt for crayfish in the ever-diminishing pools of water. Raccoon (Procyon lotor) and squirrel tracks can be seen making a wide arc around the wide, flat, s-shaped track and the log where its creator, a large Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), was still basking in the sun. Deep troughs plowed by Eastern Mud Turtles (Kinosternon subrubrum) crossed between White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) hoof prints in a variety of sizes.

However, the freshest tracks were the most exciting. The image shows a family of River Otters (Lutra canadensis) making their way out of the upstream end of Goodson Lake and across the mud to the main creek channel. That is likely a wise decision as the alligator tends to inhabit the downstream end of Goodson Lake.

The otter's name comes from Lutais which is Latin for "otter" and canadensis meaning "of Canada" where it was first described scientifically. Otters mate in late winter or early spring, but the embryos may not begin to form for 290-380 days! Once the embryo is implanted in the uterus, gestation occurs in about 60 days. One to six kits are born and will remain with the female until the next breeding season. Otters eat a variety of other animals, but are often seen in Beidler Forest eating mollusks, crayfish, and fish.

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