A North American River Otter swimming underwater

North American River Otter

The Red River Zoo is home to two otters, Annabelle and Butler. In the winter month the Zoo drains the otter pool, but that doesn’t bother the otters at all. They have loads of fun sliding down their slopes and playing with the novel items hidden in their exhibit by the zookeeper.

What do I look like?

I am a mammal from the weasel family. My body is covered in brown fur, and I have a large black nose with whiskers. My body is very slender and streamlined, so I move a little like a snake in the water! My feet are webbed to help me steer and paddle while I swim. I have a long tail that helps me swim too. I may look cute, but I have over 30 teeth and non-retractable claws that I use to catch my prey.

What do I eat?

I am a piscivore, which means I love to eat fish most of the time. Sometimes I’ll eat crabs, snails, bugs, small rodents, frogs, bird eggs, and other animals, but mostly I eat fish. Whatever I eat can pass through my entire digestive system in about an hour, and that is why I have so much energy.

Where do I live?

I get my name because I spend most of my day in or near water, usually a river. When swimming I can stay underwater for up to eight minutes, and I can dive down to 60 feet! It helps that I can close my ears and my nose when I swim. Besides rivers I can also be found near lakes, ponds, wetlands, or swamps in all of Canada and most of the United States. In the wild I live in the same habitat as the turtles, American ducks, and American geese you will also find at the Zoo.

How am I adapted for winter?

I already have to stay warm in the cold water of the river during the summer, so I do not have to do anything special to stay warm during the winter. My fur coat has two layers. The dense, oily one close to my body keeps me warm. The longer, shiny one you see keeps me dry. My skin also produces and oily substance that prevents my fur from absorbing water. I do not hibernate and I enjoy playing in the snow!

Did You Know?

Otters are highly intelligent and social animals. They engage in playful activities that give them the skills, strength, and speed to catch fish.

River otters don’t need swimming goggles to see underwater. They have a set of clear eyelids to protect their eyes.

River otters prefer to eat non-game fish species, so in a healthy ecosystem they don’t compete with human fishermen.

The North American river otter has many natural predators but typically can avoid them by escaping quickly to a burrow or to water. Natural predators that are fast enough to prey upon otter include lynx, mountain lion, wolverine, wolves, birds of prey, and alligators.


North American River Otters disappeared from much of their historic range in the United States due to the fur trade being unregulated until the late 20th century. They struggle to rebound because of water pollution and loss of habitat, but there have been several successful reintroduction in the US.