Northern river otters are relatively large members of the weasel family. They are sleek and short-legged, with broad webbed feet. Streamlined bodies and muscular tails help them swim well. Adults weigh 13–33 pounds and are 40–60 inches long. Their coats consist of short, dense fur and vary from glossy black to light brown. Northern river otters have highly sensitive, long whiskers that help them find and capture prey.
Northern river otters are found in a wide variety of riparian habitats (areas near water), including coastal regions and inland river systems. The northern river otter occurs across much of Canada and in large portions of the United States. In Utah, the otters live along creeks and rivers at both low and high elevations. There are small populations in eastern, northeastern and extreme northwestern Utah.
In Utah, the greatest threats facing the northern river otter are habitat loss and damage. These threats increase when agricultural and urban development occurs in critical breeding and foraging areas.
In Utah, biologists must focus on improving habitat and protecting critical areas for re-introduction efforts. If these management efforts are successful, our northern river otter populations will increase in size and distribution. In addition, there must be ongoing efforts to reduce incidental trapping and to improve public awareness and interest across the state.
The northern river otter is active year-round. They often den in burrows created by other animals, or under overhanging roots and banks along rivers and streams. Females give birth to an average of two to four young during late winter or early spring. Young otters remain in the den for about 60 days and are completely self-sufficient by about five months of age. They typically remain with their mother for up to one year or just before the birth of a new litter. Northern river otters eat crayfish, fish, frogs and insects, as well as an occasional bird or small mammal.