More about River Otters

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently ran a story about river otters returning to Western Pennsylvania:

At the Pennsylvania Game Commission site:

You can find information about otters on the Pennsylvania Game Commission site HERE. (you can right click and download the PDF to your computer). See the full site HERE.   The management plan for the PGC for otters is HERE  (PDF to download).

More on River Otters by Cindy Ross

(see the article in the March/April 2014 issue)

A member of the mustelid family, the river otter is closely related to the mink and weasel. An adult weighs 12 to 20 pounds, which includes a 12- to 20-inch tail.

Otters do not hibernate in the winter and are active year-round. They swim fast—up to seven miles per hour— and can dive to 60 feet, travel underwater for a quarter-mile and hold their breath for up to four minutes. While under water, their heart rate drops to slow the flow of blood and oxygen. They can tread water for long periods of time, allowing them to keep their head and neck above the water’s surface to look around.

On land, otters are even faster, able to run at the speed of 18 miles an hour. The soles of their webbed hind feet have rough protrusions that act like studded snow tires.

Long, stiff whiskers help otters feel for food in murky waters. Their diet consists of mainly fish, but they also eat crawfish, clams, frogs and toads, tadpoles, salamanders, snails, turtles, earthworms, snakes and birds.

Play is considered a mark of high intelligence in an animal, and the river otter is the play-baby of them all, sliding on ice and snow on purpose. They’ve been filmed shooting down muddy banks, chasing and wrestling with one another, and juggling sticks, stones and even their food before they eat it.

Since the otters’ presence in streams and lakes is an indicator of the water’s purity, some environmentalists are concerned about the effect of increased Marcellus Shale drilling in the state on the otters’ habitat. The extracting process used by the gas industry has the potential to silt up the state’s waterways, which could impact the otters’ habitat and ultimately the otter population. Healthy populations of wildlife are never something to take for granted.