North American River Otter

North American River Otter

Scientific Name
Lontra canadensis
Geographic Range
Canada and the United States
Fish (also amphibians, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, mollusks, small mammals, and fruit)
Endangered Status Graph - Least Concern Endangered Status Graph - Least Concern

More Information

North American river otters are a keystone species, vital within their ecosystems. On average, they are 5 feet long and weigh up to 30 pounds. These otters have long, streamlined bodies that help them move easily through the water, propelled by webbed feet and a long tail. Their waterproof brown fur helps them retain warmth.

River otters only live in areas with permanent water sources, such as rivers, creeks, and streams. They often use burrows that have been abandoned by beavers or muskrats. Their social structures are varied; some live alone, some live in families, and others live in groups of adult males. Young otters are called kits and will take to the water just two months after they are born.

Did You Know?

  • North American river otters can hold their breath underwater for up to 8 minutes.
  • Long, sensory whiskers on their muzzles help them detect prey in cloudy water.
  • By 1989, this species had dropped to a low of just 100 individuals in Illinois due to habitat loss, pollution, and fur trapping. However, water quality improvements and trapping regulations helped make reintroductions successful; the population is now stable with more than 30,000 otters in Illinois.
Species Survival Plan logo

Species Survival Plan®

We cooperate with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to manage the zoo population of this species through a Species Survival Plan®.

Learn More

Animal Care staff working with seal

Commitment to Care

Lincoln Park Zoo prioritizes individual well-being over everything else. Guided by scientific research, staff and volunteers work to provide the best welfare outcomes for each individual in the zoo’s care.

Learn More

Support Your Zoo

Two Chilean flamingos in exhibit

Animals Depend On People Too

When you ADOPT an animal, you support world-class animal care by helping to provide specially formulated diets, new habitat elements, and regular veterinary checkups.

Adopt an Animal

Asian small-clawed otter in exhibit

Wish List

The Wish List is full of one-of-a-kind items for the zoo’s animals, including nutritious snacks and enrichment items to keep them active and healthy.

Browse the Wish List

African penguin eating a fish

Take Action With Us

Wildlife face many daunting challenges—some global, like planet-wide climate change, and some that affect individuals, like an animal ingesting plastic—but now is not the time to despair. None of these problems are too big for us to come together and solve.

Take Action

Empty Playlist