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How Do Otter Families Live?

Two characteristics of river otters are that they are solitary and territorial. They are polygamous animals, meaning they mate with more than partner throughout their lifetime. A male will mate with a female and then leave to go mate with others, leaving only the female to raise the young. A family unit will only consist of a mother and her young. River otters tend to live between ten and fifteen years in the wild but can live up to twenty years in captivity.

What Is Their Life Cycle?

Mating season for river otters starts in December and lasts until about April. Male river otters will approach as many females as needed until they find a female that will mate with them. At this point the male will start to rub, nuzzle and play with the female if she is still interested the female will start to play back. If she is not interested, she will simply push the male away. The pair will mate and then 60 to 63 days later, a litter of two or three pups will be born. The river otter starts it life usually in late spring and early summer. Baby otters, also known as pups, are very small when they are born, weighing only 4.6 ounces. The mother will give birth to one litter a year.

After the pups are born, they will stay with their mother for about a year, usually until the next batch of pups are born. During this year the young will learn many skills they need to survive. The babies will be nursed by their mother for the first 14 weeks of their life, after this time they will start to hunt with their family. After one month, the pups will open their eyes and at two months, they will start to swim. At this point in the pups’ lives, the mother will do anything necessary to defend her young. After the young leave their mother they will travel to find a new home range. After about another year the young will start to look for others to mate with. River otters do not usually mate successfully until five to six years after they are born.

A River Otter’s Typical Day

River otters are usually more active at night but will spend most of their day grooming their fur. This is a very important task because the grooming process spreads the oils in the skin to the rest of the fur making it waterproof. They roll on the ground, rub against logs and vegetation, and use their paws and claws to comb their fur. Through research and observation, it has been determined that otters spend between 11 and 48 percent of their day grooming their fur. River otters use vocalizations and scent marking as forms of communication. Another way an otter reveals its presence is through sign heaps, which are small mounds of grass, mud, or sand it creates. Otters also spend some of their time playing by sliding down hills of snow or ice. They are not picky when it comes to choosing a place to sleep, but river otters usually sleep on land.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.