These two Otters were frolicking on the ice in the St. Lawrence River near the Amherst Island ferry dock as we were departing late last Thursday afternoon. We didn’t find the owls we were after on Amherst, but we did see some interesting wildlife. These are the first Otters I have ever seen in the wild. It was a privilege.
There are 13 species of Otter inhabiting areas all around the world. These semi-aquatic mammals are equally at home on land and in the water. The Otters we see in Canada’s fresh waters are about three feet long at maturity and weigh between ten and thirty pounds.
The Otters’ preferred diet consists of fish, but they will also hunt for small amphibians, birds, and small animals.
They have a thick coat of fur which keeps them warm in near freezing waters. There is also an undercoat of thin hairs that trap air and help to keep the Otter warm.
Females give birth to a few cubs early in the spring, usually in burrows along a river bank. The offspring are tended by their parents until they’re between 4 and 10 months old, when they’re ready to fend for themselves.
An Otter's den is called a holt or couch. A male Otter is a dog, a female is a bitch, and a baby is a whelp, kit, or pup. The collective nouns for Otters are bevy, family, lodge or romp, (being descriptive of their often playful nature) or, when in water, raft.
Otters living in cold water have very high metabolic rates to help keep them warm. They must eat between 15 and 20 percent of their body weight a day to survive, depending on the water temperature. In water as warm as 50 °F, an Otter needs 3.5 ounces of fish per hour to survive. Most species hunt for three to five hours a day and nursing mothers up to eight hours a day.
Otters are very playful by nature, and these two were a joy to watch, as they popped out of holes in the ice and played with each other.
St. Lawrence River
Amherst Island, Ontario