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Sunday, April 01, 2007

On a crisp, still-dark morning about two weeks ago, Daron and I were out back loading up the car for the a.m. commute to school. Marsh was holding us up as usual, and things were getting tense. All of a sudden, Daron and I heard what sounded like one of the cats bounding through the rose garden towards the pool. We both walked over to the pool, only to see something slip quietly into the water. An otter.

Marsh and your Dad didn't believe us at first, but were only miffed they hadn't seen it first. Though we have had otters on the property for years, we have certainly never seen one in the backyard, much less, in the swimming pool. I have a love/hate relationship with that pool and the fact someone else is swimming in it when I can't....well, let's not go there.

We finally got a picture of our little friend, just this morning.

Florida otters, Northern River Otter (Lutra canadensis) have very beautiful brown fur. An otter is about the size of a cat, the male is slightly larger and darker. The otter eats small land animals, such as muskrats, shrews, and young beavers, but will eat almost anything that swims or floats - fish, frogs, tadpoles, turtles, insects. I can see why one might like my pool. The otter usually feeds just after dusk and then again before dawn.

The Northern River Otter is active by day if not disturbed by human activity. Well adapted to an aquatic life, it has a streamlined body, rudder-like tail, and ears and nostrils that are valved to keep out water. The animal swims rapidly both underwater and on the surface, moving like a flexible torpedo, either forward or backward, with astonishing grace and power. To observe its surroundings, it raises its head high and treads water. A river otter can remain submerged for several minutes and can dive to a depth of 55 feet, swimming as far as 1/4 mile underwater if necessary. I can imagine our otter is enjoying the 'lap' part of the pool.

Also at ease on land, the river otter will lope along, then slide, and it also runs fairly well. River otters are among the most playful of animals. A lone river otter often amuses itself by rolling about, sliding, diving, or "body surfing" along on a rapid current. It's nest consists of sticks, grass, reeds, and leaves. This species rests under roots or overhangs, in hollow logs, burrows of other animals, or beaver lodges, which if heavily used by otters may also contain some nesting materials.

The river otter’s vocalizations include a whistle, probably used to communicate over distances, and a shrill, chattering call, emitted during the mating season. Otters chuckle softly to siblings or mates, apparently as a sign of affection, and also chirp, grunt, snort, and growl. The male river otter presumably mates with one or more females that have home ranges within his territory. The female establishes the natal den shortly before giving birth. Weaned at four months, the young disperse in fall or winter before the arrival of the next litter. The male, evicted while the young are small, returns to help care for them when they are half-grown. While sociable most of the year, during the breeding season competing males may battle.

The Northern River Otter’s fur is durable, thick, and beautiful, and excessive trapping in the past has greatly diminished the animals in number. More recently, water and air pollution, including mercury fallout, have taken a toll on otter populations. Thank goodness, there is no chlorine in that pool. Information from EcoFlorida.

If you would like to adopt an otter for yourself or perhaps a loved one as an Easter present, go here, because you can't have mine.

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