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Watchable Wildlife: River Otter

Did You Know?

A river otter with just its head above the water's surface
River otter - Lontra canadensis
Photo: Susan Shafer
  • Otters groom their fur with a "towel" made of moss or grass.
  • In murky water, they can find their prey by sensing vibrations with their whiskers.
  • The otter is a swift and agile swimmer, using its muscular tail to make sharp turns and steering with its neck and webbed feet.
Watchable wildlife binoculars icon

What to watch for:


3-4' long including the tail which is about one third of the total length. 10-30 lbs.


Dark shiny brown fur.


3' wide and round in shape. In the winter, look for 6" wide troughs formed when otters slide through the snow into the water.


Otters choose a prominent location such as a rock or peninsula of land for their "toilet" and use it over and over. Look for large collections of scat in such areas.

See Tracking Otters for images of otter scat, tracks and other ways to know if an otter is in the area.

Where to watch:

Otters spend most of their time in the water, so look in, or along the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers and the ocean.

When to watch:

Otters are active year-round.

More information about river otters:

Watch a clip about river otters and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

North American River Otter

Otters and water pollution

The best places to see river otters:

Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area

Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Center

Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

The Wild Center

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