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What Is Their Place in Nature?

The river otter plays a very important role in the ecosystem. The Lontra Canadensis is a predator species, and in many rivers it is one of the top predators. This means that through predation, the river otter helps to control the populations of the species it preys on. River otters are also important because they are a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem. If the river otter population is declining it means the ecosystem is not healthy.

Are They Endangered?

The river otter is considered a protected species in the world. Although the river otter population is not near extinction there is a threat to these animals that conservation efforts and governments would like to watch. The river otters are considered protected because they are in danger of being overhunted for their magnificent pelts. Because of this reason, many states have limitations on when people can hunt river otters. In the past, many populations of river otters have been devastated by hunting, but conservation efforts have brought back these populations to sustainable numbers.

Today, there are still threats to the river otter. As mentioned above, hunting is one of these threats. But some indirect threats include overfishing and habitat loss. Habitat loss is due to construction around many riverbanks that are destroying the woodlands and wetlands where the river otter likes to take shelter. Overfishing is causing a decline in the river otter’s main food source that can also prove to be hard on the populations.

What Kinds of Adaptations Have They Made?

The river otter has made several adaptations to live successfully on land and in the water. The first one is the river otter’s high metabolism. Swimming in cold waters can cause these animals to lose body heat very fast, but due to their high metabolism, they can generate heat almost 27 times as fast in water as they can in air. This keeps them warm and allows them to survive very cold temperatures. With this high metabolism, the river otter is able to convert food into energy fast, so it usually must eat a large quantity of food. An otter’s thick fur also as insulation, keeping the heat close to its body so it stays warm in the water.

The river otter also has the ability to stay underwater for six to eight minutes on one breath, which is a great tool for avoiding predators. Otters are excellent swimmers and are often seen “doggy-paddling” through the water or floating on their back. Large otters have been observed swimming at a speed of 9 mph. River otters have proven to be more adapted to being on land than sea otters, and can run with speeds of up to 29 mph. Since the otter spends half of its life on land it has to be able to avoid predators there, as well.

How Do They Hunt?

The river otter is a carnivore, which means it only eats meat. It eats what is available in its habitat, such as crayfish, frogs, turtles, aquatic insect larvae, angleworms, and fish, but its favorite food tends to be crayfish. The river otter usually eats 15 to 20 percent of its body weight each day because of its high metabolic rate.

When an otter hunts, it will dive headfirst and the tip of its tail will show above the surface in shallow waters. Otters will eat anything possible if there is a low supply of food. The river otter will catch food in the water and, depending on the size of the, they will eat it in the water or on the land. When their prey is bigger in size, such as a large fish, they will drag their prey on land, using their teeth.

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