I recently visited Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge at Seymour, Indiana. It is one of my favorite places to photograph and nature watch. On this trip in late October, I observed a River Otter playing/foraging a distance away. It was in a waterway along the auto tour searching for fish, amphibians, turtles, crayfish or small mammals. I pulled off and sneaked down to where I anticipated it would swim.
Trying to be small (getting low) and placing my tripod/camera in proper arrangement, I was suddenly surprised as the otter popped up several yards away from me. It immediately sensed my presence and rose out of the water looking at me (second image). It was wary yet curious. As it swam closer and eventually back and forth near me, it kept exhaling and making snuffling sounds-- likely a warning communication.
To my disappointment, the vegetation along the levee was high and wide enough to be in the way of a clear photo. Soon several otters popped out of vegetation and slid down the side of the levee into the water.
By 1942, there were no breeding pairs of River Otters were left in Indiana. Between 1995 and 1999, more than 300 River Otters from Louisiana were
transplanted into Muscatatuck, Patoka, south-central Ohio, St. Joseph,
Tippecanoe and Upper Wabash waterways to help restore this species to the state.
The project was so successful that in 2005 River Otters were de-listed as state
endangered. They are now a species of special concern. This means that River Otters are no longer listed as in danger of disappearing from the state. Biologists will continue to monitor the
species to ensure the population continues to grow.
Otters are protected from both intentional and accidental trapping during the
fur harvest season. It is illegal to take or possess the pelts of otters or of
any other protected species.
The River Otter’s fur consists of two layers - a coarse, waterproof outer coat
and a softer, finer layer that keeps the animal warm. When in the water air
bubbles cling to the outer hairs, covering the otter in what appears to be a
silvery sheen. Otters are part of the weasel family which includes minks, skunks and
badgers. Although happy to play, river otters are solitary animals. Males do not
associate with females until mating season. Only then will you see pairs
chasing, diving and cork-screwing through the water as a sort of mating
ritual. The otter loves to swim and can hold its breath for up to 8 minutes. Its
eyes are even adapted for underwater vision, leaving them nearsighted when out
of water. On land, otters rely on their sense of smell, hearing and touch to get
around. River Otters are territorial and will mark their territory with feces (or
spraint) as a warning to others. Length: 30-50 inches Weight: 11-30 lbs.
(The image below is the waterway where I found the otters.)
It is satisfying to know that River Otters are found in most of Indiana now, thanks to many people who had the foresight and made the efforts to re-establish this captivating mammal. Just another species who enriches the biodiversity of our ecosystems and our lives.
Visit Muscatatuck NWR and drive the auto tour loop or walk the trails--you are sure to see plenty of wildlife--plus they have the best nature bookstore!