North American River Otter


Like other members of the weasel family (Mustelidae), river otters have long streamlined bodies with short legs.  They have very dense, usually brown fur, with a long tail and webbed feet for swimming.  In the wild, these otters are solitary, except during mating season or when females are raising young. 


Otters spend up to 60% of their time hunting and foraging.  Other normal otter activities include playing, sliding, grooming, swimming, and digging.  Otters usually hunt at night, especially during the summer.  Like all their relatives, otters have scent glands near the base of the tail.  They use these glands to mark their territory and communicate with other otters.  They also use vocalizations to communicate.

Did you know?

  • Otters can see well under the water, but out of the water they are nearsighted.
  • Because of their high metabolic rate, otters can consume 20% of their body weight per day.
  • Otters use their long whiskers (called vibrissae) to hunt in dark or murky water.

Our Animals

There are 4 river otters at PPZ. Mike is 13 and Jilly is 10. Mike is a ball of energy! He loves to swim and run around the exhibit, while Jilly enjoys playing with her toys. Both like training, too, which teaches them behaviors that help the keepers in caring for them. For example, they are trained to stand up on their hind legs on command so their bellies and paws can be examined. In February 2013, Jilly gave birth to a male pup. Unfortunately, the pup, named Miles, experienced complications at birth and was hand-reared. A few months later in April, PPZ adopted 2 orphaned otter pup siblings from the Alexandria Zoo in Louisiana. One of the pups, Clyde, still lives here at Potter Park Zoo and he and Miles have been raised as siblings. 


Scientific Name Lontra canadensis
Conservation Status IUCN: Least Concern
Size River otters can weigh between 12 and 30 pounds, with males being larger than females. Their head and body length ranges from 22 to 32 inches, while their tail is usually 12 to 20 inches long.
Average Lifespan Otters generally live 8 to 10 years in the wild, while in captivity they may live 20 to 25 years.
Wild Diet River otters feed mostly on fish, but also eat crayfish, amphibians, turtles, and occasionally small mammals and birds.
Found through much of Canada, and parts of the United States