Winter is one of the best times of the year to look for and see river otters, especially this winter because it has been warm enough that some water areas remain open. In fact, Sue Kartman recently saw an otter on Sailor Creek Flowage near Fifield. Look for them along the shores of rivers and streams near open water. Otters are secretive and difficult to find other times of year because they blend in so well with their environment. But, when you do see them, be ready to see some fun-loving animals!
Otters are known as playful animals often wrestling or spending hours sliding down muddy or snow-packed stream banks as seen in the photo. They like to play with each other and the prey they catch. Speaking of prey, they like to eat an aquatic menu of frogs, salamanders, fish, crayfish and other aquatic animals, but their favorite food by far are fish. They usually hunt these prey in the water from along the banks of streams, rivers, marshes, ponds, and lakes. A family group usually requires about three square miles of defended territory to get enough food for all its members but may range up to 25 miles a week within their territory looking for food.
Otters are found throughout Wisconsin, but more of them live in the northern part of the state. Otters are most often confused with mink that live on land and muskrats that live in water. Otters are the largest member of the weasel family weighing up to 30 lbs. but averaging 15 to 19 lbs. They have a long, sleek three- to four-foot-long, brown body with up to a 16-inch long tapered tail. They are perfectly suited for an aquatic life with their short, webbed feet and dense fur that protects them from cold water.
Females give birth to up to five cubs, usually two to four. They are born in a den in the spring and stay together as a family through the first winter after which they disperse to establish their own territories.
Trapping otters in the winter with proper permits when their fur is prime has been a long-established tradition in Wisconsin that started with the Native Americans. No matter if you are a trapper or wildlife watcher, otters provide an exceptional wildlife viewing experience not soon to be forgotten.