Mission Statement

Bearing Witness to Local Natural History-- from the wildness of Indiana

Sunday, November 4, 2012

River Otters: Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge

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!


Pat said...

Really interesting, Joni. Thanks for sharing your photos (certainly took previous behavioral knowledge, observational and technical skills, as well as serendipity to get these) and detailed information. If passing by, I would probably have thought that second head shot was just a stump or snag sticking up from the water.

Deb Crecelius said...

Love that second photo...you are being checked out!

Marie said...

What a beautiful place! I saw a pair of otters once out in Yellowstone but have yet to see them in Michigan. I know they're there but I just haven't been in the right place at the right time. How awesome that you were!