His streamlined body maneuvers through the barely moonlit water as he extends those sensitive cat-like whiskers from a silvery muzzle searching for a suitable midnight snack.
He is a river otter, who just a century ago, you wouldn’t have seen in or near Missouri waterways. Otters were nearly eliminated in Missouri because of unregulated harvest. Thanks to restoration efforts in the 1980s and early 1990s otters are once again found throughout most of our state.
This time of year, in the third week of March, young river otters are in dens near Missouri lakes and streams. There are usually two to five young per litter of otters.
These graceful, powerful swimmers are mostly nocturnal and active throughout the year and can stay submerged under water for three to four minutes because their nose and ears naturally close when they go underwater.
Measuring up to 53 inches long, a river otter is perfectly designed for its aquatic lifestyle with webbed feet, a long tapered tail, dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat for insulation. They live near streams, rivers and lakes and their burrows may be under large tree roots, beneath rocky ledges, under fallen trees, or below thickets.
Otters use their whiskers to feel around underwater and find food, which is usually fish and aquatic invertebrates, but may include mussels, frogs, turtles, aquatic insects and other small animals.
A social animal, the otters live in family groups, vocalizing through chirps, grunts and snarls.
To keep track of current natural events like when to watch for young river otters around your local waterway, you can get your own Natural Events Calendar from the Missouri Department of Conservation.