North American river otter

Latin Name
Lontra canadensis




North American river otters have long, streamlined bodies that help them to move easily through the water. Brown, waterproof fur helps the species retain heat, and webbed feet propel them as they swim. Males and females are similar in appearance, but males are approximately 25 percent larger.



This mammal can be found throughout Canada and much of the United States. It ranges widely down both coasts and also inhabits the Great Lakes region.


North American river otters were once common in Illinois, but their numbers declined during the 20th century due to water pollution and habitat loss. A reintroduction campaign from 1994–1997 reintroduced hundreds of otters to the state, and their population now ranges in the thousands. Lincoln Park Zoo participates in the North American River Otter Species Survival Plan®, a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


An aquatic mammal, the North American river otter lives in close proximity to water, favoring rivers, streams and marshes.


North American river otters feed on fish, crayfish, insects, turtles, frogs and other animals they catch in the water.

Life History

Otters can be found living alone or in family groups consisting of a female and her offspring. If resources are plentiful, the species can form larger groups as well. Females retreat to dens to give birth to their young, which are called kits. Kits first take to the water when they are two months old, swimming easily.

Bonus Content

Winter Weather, Wet River Otters
The North American river otters at Lincoln Park Zoo's Pritzker Family Children's Zoo splash through their pool despite the snow.

ARKive Media

ARKive image - North American otter in den with pupsARKive video - North American otter - overviewARKive image - Young North American otter pups

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Lincoln Park Zoo Exhibit