River Otter

 Lontra canadensis

2 1/16 - 3 9/16 in. L x 1 13/16 - 3 in. W 2 3/16 - 4 1/8 in. L x 2 1/4 - 3 7/8 in. W

River Otter Tracks

 

Learn More about River Otter Tracks and Signs on these pages of this site:

NEW: Watch an otter eat a fish from four feet away in this exciting video clip!
Click here for the River Otter Photo Gallery and small videos
See more River Otter Tracks and Signs here
Learn to identify River Otter Scats Page 1
Learn to identify River Otter Scats Page 2

See a live tracking experience on this River Otter Tracking Video

 

Natural History of River Otters

River otters are playful members of the weasel family who love to frolic in the water. They are common in rivers and are a joy to watch.

Otters can remain submerged for several minutes. They have valved ears and noses to keep water out. The fur is warm and thick. Since they spend a significant amount of time in the water, their tracks aren't often found.

The best places to look for tracks are muddy river banks. They have five toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet.

River otter in the Eel River. November 18, 2001.

Otter tracks in sand along the Eel River, Humboldt County, California

Their toes are partially webbed, which helps them swim. Tracks in mud sometimes show this webbing. The claw marks are so close to the toes, they give the toes a characteristic pointed appearance.

Otters are well-known for their intelligence and their playful antics. They are excellent fishers, but also will eat small mammals, fish, shellfish, snakes, turtles, birds, eggs, amphibians, and lampreys. They feed primarily on amphibians and will range up to five miles up and down-river each day while hunting. 

The tail drag is sometimes visible in an otter trail. Often, their prints are found in groups of four.

Otter scat commonly contains fish scales and is often found on prominent landmarks near water, including rocks, stumps, and boat docks. See scat photo below.

Otters roll on river banks and leave a musky scent. Dens are dug into banks, with underwater or above ground entrances. Nests are made inside the den out of leaves, sticks, and grass.

Otters will often travel overland, far from water. They are active during daylight.

Otters have two to three pups in late spring. Adult otters can weigh 30 pounds.

 

River otter track pattern. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

River otter track pattern in river bank sand.

 

Personal Notes on River Otters

A family of otters lives in the Eel River near the property I caretake. Every time I walk along the river banks, I find otter tracks. They love nothing better than to chase each other out of the water and up the bank, where they roll around and wrestle.

For some reason, dogs seem attracted to otter scent. I have walked dogs on the river bar before and the dogs will invariably find the otter scent posts and roll in them. I don’t know what purpose this serves.

many otter tracks in sand

Otter tracks from the Eel River, California

One of a family of four otters swimming in the Eel River on November 10, 2000.
Otter swimming in the Eel River

I saw my first otter on an early spring morning along California’s Van Duzen River. No one else was in the campground that morning and the otter seemed unperturbed by the lone human who stood on the opposite bank and watched him hunt. He was quite a sight as he slipped easily in and out of the water in pursuit of prey. I watched and followed along the opposite bank until he disappeared far upriver. They can swim many miles each day. I, on the other hand, was stopped when I ran out of river bar to walk on. The otter is one of my favorite animals. I’m always happy when I find their tracks.

I saw a young otter along Bull Creek in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, not too long ago. It was busy exploring the shoreline and didn't notice my approach. I got to within 25 feet of it before it realized I was there and took off running upstream.

 

Otter Tracks and Sign

slightly older otter track showing signs of rain

This track shows slight aging. It had rained very lightly since this track was made.
A nice clear otter print in muddy silt. This is fine soil and leaves detailed tracks. The webbing is somewhat visible in this photo, but is difficult to see.

otter print with some webbing visible

muddy otter print

The pointed appearance of the toes is due to the claw marks being so close to the toes. The heel pad is well-defined in this photo.
A set of four otter prints. These were found along the bank of the south fork of the Eel River in Humboldt County, California. The otters were seen in the river nearby. It was a family of four otters and they were playing along the opposite shore. This is the first time I have heard otter vocalizations. The pups were making noises at each other as they wrestled.

November 10, 2000.

otter trail with all four feet showing

otter scat with snake parts

Otter scat containing the remains of a snake. There are bones and snake parts visible here. This was found on top of a rock along the bank of Bull Creek in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

October 9, 2000.

A very clear pair of otter tracks in fine mud.

pair of otter tracks

Otter track cast in dental stone.

Otter track cast in dental stone. This material is superior to plaster of Paris because it is more durable and it cleans up better. A plaster cast would have more soil clinging to it. I did not have to scrub this cast. I just washed it under a hose.
   
River otter trail pattern. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This is the trail pattern of an otter. There are groups with all four prints left as the anima bounded along the shore.

   
River otter track, right hind foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
The right hind track of a river otter in river sand.
   
River otter track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
River otter track in sand. Left hind.
 
River otter tracks close-up. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
Close-up of river otter tracks (heading toward camera). A set of raccoon tracks heads away from the camera.
 
River otter tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
A nice set of the tracks of all four feet of a river otter.
 
River otter tracks and raccoon footprints. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
Beautiful river otter tracks in sand, with a set of raccoon tracks heading the opposite direction.
 
Lots of River otter tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2005.
The tracks of a group of river otters. At the top are the tracks of a raccoon.
A domestic cat's tracks can be seen in the upper right corner of the photo.
 
River otter and raccoon tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
River otter trail heading toward the camera and raccoon heading away.
 
River otter tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
A pair of river otter tracks in wet sand.  Above is the right hind foot. Below is the left front foot.
 
River otter. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
River otter swimming in the river. It is diving in this photo.
 
River otters. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
There were three young otters following each other in a row as they swam upstream. They would surface only long enough to dive right back down again as they made their way against the current.
 
River otter scat on rock. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A river otter scat placed prominently on top of a large rock at the river's edge.
 
River otters. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Three river otters. One is slipping into the water. The other two are grooming each other's fur.
 
River otter. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
This otter sat motionless for only a second before slipping back into the river.

 

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

River otter scat containing bones of its prey. This was deposited on top of a rock on the edge of a river. Otters will frequently use tall or prominent objects on the landscape to deposit their scats.
River otter scat on the river's edge. This was a very fresh scat.

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

River otter scat in coarse river sand. This scat is fresh. You can see fish scales and bones in it.
River otter scat in coarse river sand. This scat is fresh. This one also contains fish scales and bones.

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

 
How to Scare off a River Otter  :(
The otter on the river bank. Photo Copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

So, there I was, quietly watching this otter as he made his way along the river's edge. He came out on the bank and licked his fur and posed for some photos. The otter seemed quite content and happy. I wanted to get some better photos, so I tried to get closer to the edge of the water on my side of the river. I was moving slowly, so as not to disturb the otter. I didn't want to scare it off.

 
The otter watching me approach. Photo Copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The otter watched me closely as I approached. He seemed curious about the critter that was getting closer and closer... He looked up and kept watching my intently. Then we both heard a noise....

 
people on the river on jet skis. Photo Copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

...and up the river came a couple of yahoos on jet skis! Yes, that's right... in the river! With all the rocks and submerged logs, it was not exactly a good place for this sort of activity. By the time two of these ski machines had passed by, big waves were lapping at the shore, destroying all the tracks, and the otter had disappeared. I hung around for another half hour, searching for the otter, but he was gone! I don't blame him a bit either. When the thrill-seekers returned, I called it a day. I figured the wildlife for miles up and down the river had been scared off, so what was the point? Maybe these recreational activities would be better practiced on lakes rather than on rivers in the winter? That seems more appropriate to me. I think the otter would agree.

 

Find otter posters, greeting cards, t-shirts, hats, and more in my new store.

Visit Beartracker's Nature Store.  Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's animal tracks coloring book, T-shirts, sweatshirts, journals, book bags, toddler and infant apparel, mouse pads, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, travel mugs, clocks, Frisbees, bumper stickers, hats, stickers, and many more items. All with tracks or paw  prints, or nature scenes. Custom products are available. If you don't see the track you want on the product you want, email me and I can probably create it. Proceeds from all sales go to pay the monthly fees for this web site. You can help support this site as well as get great tracking products! Thank you!

 

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Got a river otter story? E-mail me and tell me about it.

tracker777@hotmail.com

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Copyright 1997, 2009, 2012. Text, drawings, and photos by Kim A. Cabrera

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Page updated: Wednesday, July 4, 2012.

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