River Otter Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Who is shaped like a torpedo, has whiskers like a cat, and has webbed feet like a duck? It's a river otter! This lesson will teach you what a river otter is and how they live.

What is a River Otter?

If you like playing in the water at the beach on in a swimming pool, then you already have a lot in common with a river otter. River otters are aquatic mammals that live in fresh water. This means that they spend most of the time in the water playing, hunting, and swimming. They are related to weasels, and they can weigh up to 31 pounds and be over 4 feet long (53 inches).

River otters are mammals
River otters are mammals.

River otters are just one species of the 13 species of otters found throughout the world, and they live to be about 8 years old in the wild. Some river otters in captivity have lived more than 12 years. They are often seen playing in the water by splashing, diving, and sliding down muddy hills like river banks.

What do River Otters Eat?

A river otter can hold her breath for up to 8 minutes! River otters need to be able to hold their breath for a long time because they hunt underwater for their main food source, fish. Small alligators, crayfish, and other small reptiles and amphibians also make up part of a river otter's diet. However, they are considered omnivores and will eat both meat and vegetation, like plants and grasses.

Do you close your eyes and plug your nose when you dive into the water? A river otter's nostrils and eyes are specially adapted to close when he goes underwater. Their long body is smooth, shaped like a torpedo, and covered in very thick brown fur.

They use their webbed feet and long shape to propel them in the water, sometimes up to 18 miles per hour. An otter's long tail acts like the rudder of a boat and allows her to steer underwater. These traits make them excellent hunters that chase and catch fast fish with their mouths. They might catch food underwater, but they eat it on land.

River otters eat fish
River otters eat fish

Where do River Otters Live?

Even though they spend most of their time in the water, river otters actually live on land. They don't make elaborate houses like beavers (other freshwater dwelling mammals). River otters will often dig tunnels under the water that lead to their den, which is what their home is called.

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