July 31 – You Otter Know

Today’s factismal: A male otter is called a meowter.

If you think that “weasel” is a bad word, then you’ve never met an otter. There’s a good reason that a group of otters is called a “romp”, and when they do romp, these members of the weasel family are among the cutest and most playful critters on Earth. The river otter will build a mud slide into the nearest river with his friends and spend hours sliding down into the water and running back up to slide down again. When they get bored with that, they’ll wrestle each other as they practice catching fish. In winter, they will bellyflop in the snow in between quick dips into the water to hunt for fish (their main staple).

A river otter looking for his next meal (My camera)

A river otter looking for his next meal
(My camera)

Of course, life for an otter isn’t all fun and games. Because they spend so much time in the water, they have exceptionally high metabolic rates which means that they spend a lot of their time hunting for food. River otters, which are common across North America, eat a combination of small fish, crawfish, and molluscs; when those goodies are scarce, they’ll make do with fruits and insects. And river otters frequently hunt in groups; this isn’t surprising, considering that they are among the most social of all otters. A river otter typically either lives as part of a group headed by a mature female (known, appropriately enough, as a “queen”) or as a member of a nearby bachelor colony filled with hopeful meowters. The males will sometimes help with the inevitable childcare, but are far from faithful; a meowter might call on as many as ten different queens during mating season.

A pair of river otters on the prowl (My camera)

A pair of river otters on the prowl
(My camera)

Of course, there’s a downside to being a river otter. Because they are perpetually hungry, they frequently eat all of the available food in an area and must migrate to someplace where the fish are more plentiful. And that causes problems for researchers; there is nothing more frustrating than heading out to look at your favorite romp only to discover that they’ve moved without leaving a forwarding address. Fortunately, researchers have a secret weapon: citizen scientists like you. If you spot a river otter, then why not take a picture of it and send it to the Otter Spotter website? You won’t get a tasty raw fish, but you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped us learn more about one of nature’s funnest and furriest!

A river otter out for lunch (My camera)

A river otter out for lunch
(My camera)

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