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North American River Otter

North American River Otter

Welcome to the Abilene Zoo’s webpage dedicated to the North American River Otter! The North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) is a playful and intelligent member of the weasel family, known for its acrobatic swimming skills and charming antics. Visit our Elm Creek Backyard to watch these delightful creatures in action. Let’s discover more about their diet, habitat, size, and conservation status, as well as some interesting facts that make the North American River Otter a true crowd-pleaser.

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North American River Otters are primarily carnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of aquatic animals. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they also consume amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and even small mammals and birds. River otters have a high metabolism and must eat a significant portion of their body weight each day to maintain their energy levels.


North American River Otters inhabit a diverse range of aquatic environments, including rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes, throughout much of the United States and Canada. They prefer habitats with abundant food sources and nearby vegetation or rocky areas that provide shelter and denning sites. River otters are highly adaptable and can also be found in coastal regions, brackish estuaries, and even high-elevation mountain lakes.

Size and Weight

North American River Otters are medium-sized members of the weasel family, with a body length typically ranging from 26 to 42 inches (66 to 107 cm), including their tail. They generally weigh between 11 and 31 pounds (5 to 14 kg), with males being larger and heavier than females.

Conservation Status

The North American River Otter is currently listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Their population is considered stable across most of their range, although they have experienced declines in some regions due to habitat loss, water pollution, and trapping for their fur. Conservation efforts are in place to protect and restore otter populations in areas where they have declined.

Interesting Facts

Acrobatic Swimmers:

North American River Otters are exceptional swimmers, using their streamlined bodies, webbed feet, and powerful tails to navigate swiftly and gracefully through the water. They can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes and dive to depths of 60 feet (18 meters) in search of prey.

Social Creatures:

River otters are social animals that often live in family groups called "romps," consisting of a female and her offspring, or in larger groups of unrelated individuals. They are known for their playful behavior, which includes sliding, wrestling, and chasing each other in and out of the water.


North American River Otters have a range of vocalizations, including chirps, growls, and screams, used to communicate with other otters and signal their intentions. They also use scent marking to establish territories and convey information about their reproductive status.

Built for the Cold:

River otters have a dense, water-repellent fur coat and a layer of insulating fat that help them stay warm in cold water environments. They are also equipped with a specialized nose that can close while diving, preventing water from entering their nostrils.

Visit the North American River Otter at the Abilene Zoo

During your visit to the Abilene Zoo, be sure to stop by our Elm Creek Backyard exhibit to observe the captivating North American River Otter. As you watch them swim and play, you’ll develop a newfound appreciation for these energetic and charismatic creatures.

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