River Otter Scat

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This scat is one of ten that were found in a small grotto underneath a cliff overhang along the south fork Eel River, Humboldt County, California. The local otters frequently use this location to deposit scat. Among mustelids, the family of animals otters belong to, this is a form of communication. Otters passing by will stop at the scent post and deposit scat, or roll on the bank. There are also several slides that allow the otters to slip into the river. This and the following 11 photos were all taken in this location on the same day.

 

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Otter scat up close. You can see the small bones from prey in this one. Also visible are some fish scales.
 

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Another scat, showing prey contents.

 

River otter scat with exoskeleton from macroinvertebrate. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This close-up shows an otter scat with the exoskeleton of an aquatic insect nymph on it. Along the river's edge, these insects leave their underwater home and emerge from their old exoskeletons to take on their land forms. Often, these are flying insects, such as dragonflies, stoneflies, and mayflies. This one is likely a stonefly. It was not eaten by the otter in this case. The nymph crawled out of the water and rested on the otter scat to complete its metamorphosis. However, that does not mean that otters cannot eat these aquatic insects. Have a look at some of the scats below and you will see the remains of dragonfly nymphs in them. 
 

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Another otter scat in close-up.

 

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A different scat. These scats were all in the same scent post area, likely from different animals.

 

River otter scat scent post locations. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The red arrows point to the locations of six of the scats found in this scent post. The cliff overhang is visible in the reflection on the water. This is a lush area, with ferns growing from the cliff wall and water dripping from springs. Redwoods and other trees grow from a flat area against the cliff. There was even one tiger lily in this location, its beautiful orange flower providing a splash of color. It is the perfect otter haven, with water full of fish and a sunny spot on the bank, protected from the wind and predators. It's a great place for otters to come out of the river and sleep. I once watched a young otter do just that. The river was higher and there was no way I could get across and the otter felt safe, so he curled up and went to sleep! The blue object in the photo is my swimming mask. There were a total of ten scats the day I took this photo. At times in the past, I have counted more than a dozen scats here. This location is used year after year.
 

River otter scat with ruler for scale. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A scat with ruler for scale.

 

River otter scat on small knob overlooking river. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A small scat resting on a knob of soil that juts over the river. Prominent locations like this are ideal places for otters to deposit their scats.

 

River otter scat. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

An older scat that is breaking apart.

 

Several river otter scats. Lutra canadensis. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Several scats of varying ages deposited next to each other.

 

Looking into the river from above a river otter slide. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A view from the otter's perspective. The fish were abundant and easily visible in the clear water. There are several slides visible here. The otters easily slide right into the river from this bank. It's a nice place to spend a sunny afternoon. I can see why the otters like it. I didn't want to leave!
 
Two weeks after I took the above photos of otter scat, I revisited the same location again. This regularly used otter "post office" or scent marking station, was again filled with new scats. I counted over half a dozen new scats that had been deposited since my first visit. When tracking otters, or any other animal, it is good to be aware of their behaviors and where that might indicate that you should look for tracks and signs. Members of the family Mustelidae tend to use their ability to produce strong scent to mark in their habitat. It's a way for the members of the species to communicate with each other. Below are some of the scats I found when I returned to the otter scent post.

River otter scat or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

River otter scat, or fecal droppings. These were in the grotto area described above.

 

River otter scat or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Two different scats deposited next to each other.

 

Close-up of river otter scat or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A close-up of another river otter scat. Various prey species are contained inside.

 

River otter scat or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Another river otter scat from the same location.

 

Several river otter scat or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Three separate scat deposits next to each other. Various ages. Possibly from several animals. Ruler is six inches long.

 

Six river otter scats or droppings. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

These large scats were deposited right above the slide that the otters use to get back into the river. These scats were larger than any of the others I found in this location. Because there had been two weeks in between my visits, I am not sure if these were all deposited at the same time by a group of otters, or at different times by the same animal. However, on the day I took these photos, the scats all appeared very fresh and smelled very pungent. In fact, they could be smelled from almost halfway across the river. By the next day, the smell was not as noticeable. At least to a human nose! I would bet that the otters are fully capable to smelling these from much further than humans can. It is, after all, one of their methods of communication.
 

River otter scat or droppings showing remains of insects. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A large otter scat containing what appears to be remains of the exoskeletons of dragonfly nymphs. It was not easy to get photos of the larger scats that were on the slope above the otter slide. I was clinging to an exposed root and trying to take the photos with one hand, while trying not to fall into the river myself! At least the camera didn't get wet!

 
 

Otter scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

River otter scat found on the bank of Leggett Creek, in Humboldt County, California. This scat, and the one below, were next to each other.

 

Otter scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

River otter scat found on the bank of Leggett Creek, in Humboldt County, California. This scat, and the one above, were next to each other.

 

Otter scat location on the creek bank. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Location of two river otter scats on the creek banks. Red arrows indicate scats. This creek supports frogs, salamanders, and many fish. All are potential food for otters.
 

Otter scat habitat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

River otter habitat in Leggett Creek, a tributary of the south fork Eel River, in Humboldt County, California. The otters have plenty of prey and many places to establish their homes here. Very few people ever venture into this creek drainage as it is blocked by many log jams and the canyon is very narrow.
 

close up of otter scat with crayfish remains

Close up showing the contents of the scat below. You can see parts of dragonfly nymphs on the right. There are bones and some crayfish parts also visible in this view.
 

river otter scat

This otter scat was one of more than a dozen found at this location.

 

 

 

 

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera.

This river otter scat is less than a day old. It was found on the bank of the Eel River after a rainstorm had almost obliterated the otter's tracks. It is composed of fish scales and bones. There were also parts of insects in it. The otter had left several scratch marks in the sand next to it. Otters will deposit their scat on prominent objects, such as rocks and logs, as a territorial marking. Otter scats are also frequently found on lakeside docks in otter country. Photo taken at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.
   

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

River otter scat found on top of a rock at the water's edge.
River otter scats sometimes have a jelly-like substance in them. Sometimes, it appears yellowish.

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

Fresh river otter scat in wet sand near the water.
Another fresh scat deposited near the one above. The group included several otters.

River otter scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

   
   

Photos Copyright 1999, 2008, 2010 by Kim A. Cabrera

 

 

 

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
Return to main River Otter Tracks and Signs page
Learn to identify River Otter Scats Page 2

 

 

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