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Southeastern River Otter

A subspecies of the North American River Otter


Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae

Genus & Species: Lontra canadensis lataxina (also laxtaxina?)

APPEARANCE

Southeastern river otters are large carnivores belonging to the weasel family. They have a long body, slender and weasel-like in shape, that ends in a thick tail which tapers to a point. Sexual dimorphism is present, with the males being larger than the females. They have a total length of 3-4.2 ft (90-127 cm), and weigh 10-25 lbs (5-13.7 kg). The head is small and rounded, as are the ears. The nose is diamond-shaped and hairless, and both the nostrils and ears contain flaps that can open and close underwater. The legs are stubby but powerful and end in five-toed, fully webbed feet equipped with sharp claws. The sense of smell and touch (with the whiskers) are the most acute. The eyes are small and vision is not as good as the other senses. The jaws are strong and the teeth sharp.

Southeastern river otters have a dense, soft, velvety undercoat of short hairs protected by longer, coarser waterproof guardhairs. The coat is generally a rich brown on the top and paler on the belly, underside of the throat, and the lips. This pale fur distinguishes it from another subspecies, L. c. canadensis, which has darker undersides.

Southeastern river otters have a life span of up to 20 years.

HABITAT

Southeastern river otters are found mostly in Arizona, Colorado, and along the East Coast. They are thought to be extirpated from New Mexico and are rarely seen in West Virginia. The common names imply that they are also found in portions of Alaska and Canada, but I have found little information to back this up.

Southeastern river otters are almost entirely aquatic, although they may spend large amounts of time on land. They can be found in lakes, streams, rivers, canals, reservoirs, bays, and wetlands located around Appalachian oak forests and mixed forests.

Southeastern river otters are not fiercely territorial, but males do not lap other males' territories. They travel alone or in groups of 2-5. While on land, they appear clumsy, but can outrun a human.

FOOD

Southeastern river otters are carnivores. They feed on birds, large insects, tadpoles, snails, freshwater mussels, small mammals, and slow-moving, bottom-dwelling fish, such as catfish. Crayfish play an important role in their diet. Southeastern river otters have a high metabolism and an efficient digestive system. They catch their prey with their mouths, not their claws. They will eat carrion.

In captivity, they are fed live fish, carrot mash, etc.

ENEMIES

The southeastern river otter's main enemy is man, who at one time nearly wiped out this subspecies by over-trapping for its fur. Manmade pollutants also kill many otters and will disrupt the food chain. Parasites are not a big problem, with only two species causing pathological damage: Gnathostoma miyazaki and Stongyloides lutrae. Some natural predators include bobcats, eagles, coyotes, black bears, alligators, crocodiles, foxes, wolves, and cougars.

BREEDING

Southeastern river otters reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age, although males may not successfully mate until 5-6 years. The breeding season is in the winter or spring and lasts for three months. The females mate annually and are in heat for 42-46 days. After breeding, there is a gestation period of 8-13 months due to delayed implantation (the egg does not implant itself in the uterine wall right away). 1-6 pups, usually 2-4, are born. They are born fully furred, and their eyes open after 21-33 days. The male leaves during the pups' births but returns when the pups learn to swim. The pups stay with their family for -1 year.

RELATIVES

The southeastern river otter is a subspecies of the North American river otter and is related to the other subspecies, which include L. c. degener, L. c. canadensis, and L. c. sonora.

RESOURCES CITED

1. fwie.fw.vt.edu/WWW/macsis/lists/M050045.htm
2. www.nsrl.ttu.edu/opapers/op181.htm
3. www.worldzoo.org/abstract/abs02216.htm#1
4. www.scz.org/animals/o/otter.html
5. www.fw.vt.edu/fishex/nmex_main/species/050556.htm

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