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North American River Otter

Lontra canadensis

Did you know?

  • North American river otters are a part of the Mustelidae family, which they share with weasels and ferrets.
  • They live in rivers and streams in Canada and the U.S.A.
  • They can dive 36 feet (11 meters) down underwater.
  • An adult’s tail compromises almost 40% of its total body weight.
  • A female will usually have two pups at birth.


North American river otters are land carnivores that are highly adapted for spending time in water. They have long, sleek bodies and webbed feet, enabling them to be strong swimmers. They have two coats, one undercoat and one overcoat with longer guard hair. Due to a layer of oil, their outercoat is mostly waterproof. Their long, strong tails act as propellors, and their ears and noses close shut when they dive underwater.

River otters are about two to three times smaller than sea otters. River otters have four webbed feet and swim with their belly submerged, whereas sea otters have only two webbed feet and are known for swimming on their back as they float on the top of saltwater. Sea otters are more buoyant than river otters. Typically, a river otter litter contains more pups than a sea otter litter, which often has one pup at a time.

Young and Family

North American river otters live alone or in pairs, but they socialize in groups. Playing together is an important part of their life, and it is thought these activities help with social bonds and hunting. Examples of their play are a game of hide-and-seek in tall grass or sledding on their stomachs down a snowy hill. A female will prepare a den for birth. Typically, a female otter will have about two pups per litter, but she can have more. The pups will emerge from the birthing den when they are about two months old. The male does not help raise the young.

Threat Level

  • Unknown
  • Common
  • Near Threatened
  • Threatened
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered
  • Extinct in the Wild


The North American River Otter is widespread and abundant.


Canada and the United States, including Alaska


Rivers and streams

We care about North American river otters

The Saint Louis Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Program for North American river otters. We also support this species at the Zoo. Learn more about our conservation efforts.

Dedicated to Conservation

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