Otter “Pup-date” — Growth and Development

It’s been just over two months since Nkeke, Potter Park Zoo’s female river otter, delivered two healthy otter pups. Since early February, the pups have grown quickly, reaching several important developmental landmarks, and gaining the skills and abilities they will need to become fully independent.

Because river otters are born blind with little to no mobility, they stay close to their mom for the first two months. If they must leave the nest, mom carries them gently by the scruff of their necks. By now, our pups’ eyesight is nearing full development, allowing them to take in their surroundings. It won’t be long until they can leave the nest by themselves.


As aquatic mammals, however, otter pups must learn to be just as comfortable in water as on land. (Yes, even river otters need swimming lessons!).With mom’s help and supervision, they swim in the pool for short periods of time. The time the pups spend in the pool will grow longer as time goes by.

For Nkeke’s two pups, these lessons are well underway. They will grow stronger and more confident as the weeks pass, and by summer, they will be pro swimmers just like their parents!


Two final and important landmarks lie ahead for the baby otters. The first is the weaning phase, which usually begins at the two-month mark.

Nkeke’s pups have already had their first taste of solid food. Although the pups will continue nursing for another month or so, solid food will become an increasingly large part of their diet, until they have transitioned off of mom’s milk completely.

The second and final landmark is the pup’s first molt — the shedding of their old fur to be replaced with a newer coat. This will occur in another two months, sometime during the summer. An otter’s fur plays a vital role in insulating them from cold temperatures while swimming!

Animal care staff continue to enjoy watching our otter pups learn and grow. The journey to adulthood is full of challenges, but with a good mom like Nkeke, our pups have met every landmark and are well on their way to a healthy adulthood. We hope you will stop be to see their progress when Potter Park Zoo reopens. Until then, you can stay tuned on our social media for regular photo and video updates.