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This Week’s Creature Feature: The North American River Otter

Feeding nightly in a creek near you

      The river otter is common throughout the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay as well as throughout North America. Fairly large mammals of the weasel family, these otters can weigh up to 30 pounds and stretch to four feet long.  They feed in and around fresh and brackish water eating fish, crayfish, frogs, insects, turtles, snakes and small mammals and birds. Locally, in spring they follow river herring and perch after chasing down catfish and pickerel all winter. Because they travel and feed at night, they can be hard to follow.
      Otters give birth to several kits in the fall and winter. The babies do not open their eyes for five weeks and stay with their parents for a year.  
      During that time, they are taught how to fish, how to stay safe and how to play. They play frequently and seem to enjoy themselves. I have seen them wrestling and chasing each other, climbing up a ladder and giving a little squeal as they dove into the water and slipping repeatedly down a slide they made in the creek bank.
     Life for river otters is not always a game. I think that the late freezing rain and thick Bay ice in 2015 really decreased the population on the South River. I did not see any for the next two years. They are also part of Maryland Furbearers Game Program and trapped and hunted for their fur, about $20 per pelt.