Lontra canadensis North American River Otter


  • Mustelidae


  • Wild: 10 to 15 years
  • Captivity: Up to 25 years


  • Length: 2 to 3.5 feet
  • Tail length: up to 18 inches
  • Weight: 10 to 33 pounds
    • Females are 1/3 smaller than males.


  • Historically found throughout most of the United States and Canada.


  • North American River Otters live in lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal areas.


  • Wild: River otters mainly eat fish and crustaceans, but will also eat birds, eggs, berries, and small mammals.
  • Zoo: Our otters are offered a Zoo carnivore diet, carrot, apple, and lake smelt.

ReproductionNorth American River Otter in den

  • Every other year, otters bear 2 to 4 pups in an abandoned burrow.
  • Otters have delayed implantation, allowing a fertilized egg to suspend development until it is signaled to resume growth.
    • This may be a response to population growth, food supplies or other factors that would affect the ability of young to thrive.
  • Pup’s eyes typically open at 21 to 35 days.
  • Pups become independent between 1 to 1.5 years of age.
  • They need to be taught how to swim.
    • The mother may throw them in the water for their first swimming lesson.

Unique Characteristics

  • As members of the Mustelidae family, otters have specialized glands that secrete musky smelling oil for identification, marking territory, and for protection.

Special Adaptations

  • Otters have adaptations for an aquatic lifestyle.
    • They have four webbed feet, ears and nostrils that close tightly, a propeller-like tail, a waterproof undercoat, and an insulating outer coat.
    • They are also nearsighted, which actually enables them to see better underwater.
    • During a dive, they can even slow their pulse to conserve oxygen.
  • The otter has a keen sense of smell and very sensitive whiskers, too.

Conservation Status

  • IUCN: Not evaluated
  • CITES: Not Listed
  • River otters are not endangered, but their numbers are declining due to hunting, habitat loss, and pollution, so they are protected.
  • Over 30,000 pelts are still sold annually in Canada and the U.S.
North American River Otter


  1. CITES Appendices. Accessed December 2012. www.cites.org
  2. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Accessed December 2012. www.iucnredlist.org
  3. Burnie, David and Don E. Wilson. Smithsonian Institution. Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. New York, New York. DK Publishing, Inc. 2001.
  4. Lontra canadensis (Schreber, 1777). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed December 2012. www.eol.org/pages/328584

**All animal information is meant to be an educational resource. It may not include all the latest scientific information. Though we edit our information we cannot guarantee the accuracy of all facts presented.