By Alyssa Mechler

Otters in the winter

The zoo is a great place to visit during the winter; you get to see lots of animals that aren’t normally out during the hot months. While animals like the rhinos and giraffes may be inside due to colder temperatures, the zoo’s resident otters enjoy their time outside whether playing in the snow or swimming in their heated pool. It is not out of the ordinary for North American river otters to be active during the winter. In the wild, they are often seen on the frozen rivers diving for fish and sliding down the riverbanks. A frozen river can’t stop an otter from catching its prey, they use opening, break through and even use beaver dams to get to the water.

The North American river otter is a semiaquatic species, and their thick fur helps keep them warm while swimming in the cold winter waters. Otters are fantastic swimmers capable of holding their breath for up to eight minutes! While underwater, otters can close their nostrils to avoid water going in their noses. They have a streamlined body, webbed feet, and a flattened head that helps them move through the water, while their long, muscular tail helps propel them through the water. Otters aren’t only strong swimmers; they can also run at speeds up to fifteen miles per hour on land! You can find the zoo’s otters, Ariel and Brighton, showing off their swimming and running capabilities all year round.

When watching Ariel and Brighton, you might catch them up on land, rubbing their fur in the sand or rubbing their bodies on the logs and other items in their habitat. The otter’s thick fur allows them to stay warm while underwater. Once they are on land, they must dry their fur off in order to keep warm. Rolling around in the sand allows them to dry off quickly. You may also

find them napping in their half log den. Brighton and Ariel aren’t always outside, sometimes they prefer the luxury of their heated barn. Otters in the wild also have dens, but they may be a little harder to find than Ariel and Brighton’s; that may be because the entrance to the den of a wild river otter is typically underwater.

The North American river otter is a very smart and playful critter to watch, from their swimming abilities to their running abilities. You can see otters playing in the snow and mud, chasing their tails, chasing other otters in the water, and so much more. These playful activities are a way for otters like Ariel and Brighton to strengthen their social bond. To see more of these beautiful, playful otters, make sure to stop by and see Ariel and Brighton at the Lee Richardson Zoo, open 8-5 daily.

Alyssa Mechler is a conservation education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.