The tracks in the snow from last week’s puzzler were made by… drum roll please…..River OTTERS! I was lucky enough to live adjacent to a huge wetland in eastern New York state for a number of years, getting to explore the wild land in all seasons, including winter when the ice meant no area was off limits. It was very common for me to see otter tracks and even the otters themselves. If you’ve ever seen one you know they move with a graceful fluidity, both in the water and on land.
One of my favorite things to do was venture down to the river after dark during the winter, sometimes under the light of a full moon in order to watch the otters playing and hunting in pools of open water. I frequently heard them before I saw them, especially if they were working on a fish that they’d caught and brought to the top of the ice to devour. Like a beaver working on chopping down a tree, their loud chewing is unmistakable–certainly not done with their mouths closed as my mother reminded me again and again when I was a child. In winter, otter slides were everywhere, including from the ice into spots of open water. For them it is a more efficient way of traveling, not to mention a whole lot more fun! They take a few steps, then sl–iiiiii-ddddeee on their bellies, a few steps, then sl—iiiiiii-ddddd-eeee on their bellies!
The first time I ever saw one I was walking along the river in winter, before it had frozen over. I suddenly became aware of some animal making a kind-of barking sound and when I looked around to identify it, I was amazed to discover the otter as its source. The otter was in the water, his head above the surface, sort of bobbing about as he warned his friends about my presence. After that I recognized the sound and always felt thrilled when I saw the otter making it.
River otters possess some amazing adaptations that allow them to be perfectly suited to their aquatic environments. Do you know how long they can hold their breath, or where they make their homes? Do you know what they eat or how they can survive the frigid water during winter? The River Otter is this week’s Creature Feature, answering these questions and more.
Until then, happy weekend! Can you believe it’s almost January and a new year? Wow, time really does fly by.