northern river otter

(Lontra canadensis laxatina)


This species has a large, weasel-like, long, and slender body with small eyes, ears and head, short legs, webbed toes and a tapering tail. The fur is dense, soft, short, and rich brown above, paler below. They have a total length from 900-1270 mm, and a weight 10-25 pounds. The males are larger than the females. The breeding season is about 3 months in the late winter and early spring. A litter of 1-6 kits is born from March to April in natal dens (overhanging banks, tree knots and abandoned stream bank burrows). This species does not dig its own burrow. The male avoids the area of birth but rejoins the family while the young learn to swim. The family group stays together for 6 months-1 year. They are active any hour (peak feeding dawn-midmorning, evening) and season. Life span for the otter in the wild is usually 8-9 years.


The range of the river otter is throughout Virginia. This species is semi-aquatic or almost entirely aquatic and they are most abundant in food-rich coastal areas and the lower parts of streams and rivers. They use drift piles and logjams, and are found among tree roots. They occasionally use duck blinds and abandoned boat houses.


They are a boon to fishermen and prey primarily on non-game fish especially slow moving fish, bottom dwelling rough fish, and secondarily on fish in abundance or in large schools. Crayfish are also important in the diet.