How to Talk to an Otter
One day I went out to see what I could discover down at the waterway near our house where we used to live in Sacramento, out near the airport. As I walked along the shore I noticed signs of an animal that ate crayfish. I suddenly heard a humming sound and looked out in the water to see this playful otter. I decided to mimic its sound and see what happened. This is the result.
After watching this otter I did some research and found out that its scientific name is Lontra canadensis, the North American River Otter. These intelligent and playful animals were once hunted and trapped for their fur. They spend their days hunting for fish, shellfish, small mammals and bird eggs. This otter seemed to enjoy the taste of crayfish which it found to be plentiful in the backwaters of the American River. I have also encountered otters at U.C. Davis along the creek that runs through the park area behind the campus. Otters travel around a lot looking for new places to feed. If the waterways are connected or nearby, the otters travel to and from a number of locations to find the best sources of food. It’s a rare treat to be able to watch an otter this close and have it stay around long enough to film it.
When I watched this otter playing I was reminded of how awesome our God is to have created so many interesting and different animals with so many varied behaviors. He must have wanted to create an animal that would bring a lot of joy and laughter to those who watched it play. Otters are important in the environment because they help regulate other animals that could overrun the area. By eating many of the animals that reproduce vast numbers of offspring, the otter allows for there to be a balance so there is enough food to go around for all the animals in the area. If just one animal species is removed from an area it can cause a lot of problems for the others. God designed animals to live in certain habitats and gave them a hunger for certain kinds of foods so not all animals would eat the same thing.
One interesting thing I learned about otters is how they mark their territories. In the video you saw how the otter decided to leave its “calling card” on the bank. This otter “poop” actually has a name and a purpose. It is called “spraint” and it has a distinctive smell. It tells other otters and animals to stay away. “This area is mine!” Other otters can actually tell a lot about the otter that left the spraint on the shore by its smell. Scientists believe that from its smell they can tell whether it was a male or female, how old it is, and many other things. If you find a pile of spraint on the shore you know an otter is either nearby or has recently been there. Since otters eat up to 15% of their weight every day you can bet there is a lot of spraint left behind!
An amazing otter fact has to do with their fur. Did you know otters can have up to one million hairs per square inch? They actually have two layers of hairs: an undercoat and then the longer hairs you see on the outside as they swim by. The hairs nearest the body allow air to be trapped to keep the otter warm as well as to add buoyancy so it can float more easily.
Otters are also tool users. An otter can grab a rock from from its surroundings and use it to crush open hard shelled animals so they can get at the meat inside. They can actually store the rock in the skin under their arms until needed. Sometimes they seem to just play with things they find in the water, kind of like when we play catch or tag.
Fun Otter Facts:
A family of otters in the water is often called a “raft”.
The same family on land is called a “romp”.
Otters often build slides along the shore to enter the water more quickly.
In Bangladesh, otters are used by fishermen to catch fish. The fishermen train the otters to hunt for, catch and chase fish into nets. The fishermen then allow the otters to eat some of their catch.
Scientists who spend a lot of time studying otters have discovered that they have 22 distinct noises they make to communicate. One of the most notable is a “hum”, which you might hear in the video.
Did you notice how the otter responded when I started making clicking and bird sounds at the end of the video? Apparently this otter preferred the humming sound.
OTTER QUIZ Let’s see how much you have learned.
1. A family of otters on land is called a “romp”. T F
2. Otters can tell whether another otter is a male or female from the sprint left on the shore. T F
3. A family of otters in the water is called a “boat”. T F
4. Scientists have discovered that otters can make 22 different sounds which they use in communication.
5. Fishermen in Bangladesh actually train otters to fish for them. T F
6. Otter hairs can number up to a million hairs per square inch of their pelts. T F
7. The scientific name of the North American River Otter is:
A. “Ollie” the otter, B. “Sprains”, C. Lontra canadensis, D. None of the above
8. Otters have been known to use tools to open their food. T F
ANSWERS: 1. T, 2. T, 3. F (it’s a raft), 4. T, 5. T, 6. T, 7. C, 8. T
How did you do?