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North American River Otter

Scientific Name: Lontra canadensis


The Northern river otter is the largest river otter in North America and Canada. It can weigh up to 30 pounds and as long as 60 inches long when fully grown. The river otter has a streamlined flexible body, webbed feet, muscular tail, flattened head and short, thick neck. All otters have extremely fine, dense and velvety fur. (River otters have 450,000 hairs per square inch!)

A river otter’s diet consists of fish, crayfish, turtles, mollusks, amphibians and insects, and birds. An otter can hold its breath for up to eight minutes while underwater; its ears and nostrils close up tightly to keep out the water while submerged.

A group of otters in the water is called a “raft.” Small family groups are called “romps.” They communicate using whistles, yelps, growls and screams.


North American river otters are found in the United States and Canada. They inhabit lakes, rivers, inland wetlands, coastal shorelines and marshes.

Status in the Wild

North American river otters are listed in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II. Their population trend is stable, and they are listed as a Least Concern species with the US Fish and Wildlife Services. Riverbanks first exhibited North American river otters in the 1980s. Our newest otters, Savannah and Sophia Grace, arrived at the Zoo in February 2015.