How many of you have watched river otters in the wild? Remember that seeing them in a zoo, while interesting and entertaining, isn’t even close to the same thing, and that the behavior is likely to be different.
The river otter is one of my personal favorite wild animals, and one that I love observing. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to watch them several times. They seem to have a natural joy of life that is both fun and comical, year around. Adults and babies alike are playful, and it is clear that this attitude is important to their way of life.
Watching them, it isn’t at all difficult to see that their playfulness extends to their feeding habits. These relatively large and mostly aquatic member of the weasel family make their dens in river and lake banks. It isn’t uncommon to find muddy slides near the den which they use to slide down, into the water, frequently catching prey in the process. In winter, the slide is replaced with ice which the otters will slide over with what truly appears to be glee, though it is slightly harder to get to their food supply that lies under the ice. This doesn’t stop them from sliding again and again.
River Otters, being carnivores and members of the weasel family, eat fish, aquatic insects, crustaceans when available, and amphibians such as frogs. Quite often, a fish or such food item and will be played with in much the same way that a cat will play with a mouse. A mother otter, to teach her young, will sometimes even catch a fish and put it on the bank for the babies to play with while they are also learning to hunt.
For an animal that seems to spend a great deal of its time playing, it is only natural that this animal feeds in the same way, and the ease with which they catch prey makes it truly seem that it is simply another playful distraction rather than a fight for survival. Still, they are devoted and loving parents, and it shows.
Unfortunately, this graceful animal is no longer numerous in many areas, except in zoos which don’t allow a person to really see how they act in a natural environment, however there are still wild populations in many of the less developed wilderness areas of our country. This is an intelligent and totally joyful animal that is very worth doing what we can to preserve.
Perhaps we can also learn something from the river otter, such as how to not take everything so hard as not to enjoy life to its’ fullest.