They may look cute and cuddly, but don’t let the playfulness of Iowa’s river otters trick you. Otters are serious swimmers and fearless, voracious predators. Here are some cool facts you may not have known about Iowa’s swimming weasels:
River otters can remain underwater for as long as eight minutes, and they’re adapted to look for food underwater at night, even in the winter.
Built for speed
An otter’s body is streamlined, making the critter an incredible swimmer. Otters’ agility in the water allows them to catch prey, usually slippery, live fish. Their fully webbed feet and the ability to twist and turn their body any direction quickly makes them a force to be reckoned with in the water. Mother otters teach their young to swim.
Otters are one of the few animals that continue to play into adulthood. You’ll often find marks in the snow from them gliding down their favorite sledding hills – slopes down to waterbodies.
Otter hair is relatively short, yet extremely dense (450,000 hairs per square inch), helping them keep warm in cold water.
Don’t mess with Mustelidae
Despite their playfulness, otters are a part of the Mustelidae, or weasel, family, known for being fearless, voracious predators.
Otters leave tracks with five toe marks and can usually be found around beaver colonies. Their home range is usually 50 square miles along rivers, but males will sometimes wander further.
Like many other species pushed out of Iowa with European settlement, the river otter was mostly wiped out in Iowa by the early 1900s, save a few small groups on the Mississippi River. A reintroduction program launched by the DNR in 1985 at Red Rock Reservoir, and by 2006, otters had spread statewide.
Learn more about otters and other Iowa critters on our Iowa Wildlife board on Pinterest.