Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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North American River Otter

Lontra canadensis

The North American river otter is a semiaquatic mammal that inhabits waterways throughout North America. They are known for their playful behavior and boundless energy.

Range & Habitat

In marine or freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, estuaries, and marshes throughout portions of North America from Canada to the Rio Grande and Alaska, except in desert or arctic areas.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Least Concern; however, habitat destruction, water pollution, hunting, and trapping have caused population numbers to decline in some areas.


In the Wild: Fish, crayfish, aquatic invertebrates, plants, birds, turtles, and small mammals.

At the Zoo: Fish and meat.

Life Span

In the Wild: 12 years; In Human Care: up to 25 years.

Fun Facts about the North American River Otter

  • North American river otters are excellent swimmers and divers. They swim by using a series of movements of their legs and tail. They can dive as deep as 60 feet and remain under water for 6 to 8 minutes.
  • North American river otters are described as playful animals. They have been observed playing in the water, sliding on their stomachs, and socializing with other river otters.
  • North American river otters spend a majority of their time in the water, they can actually close their nostrils to help keep water out while they are swimming and diving.


North American river otter. (2018, July 11). Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

North American River Otter. (2020). Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

Where Do River Otters Play? (2020). Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

Updated December 2, 2020