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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Several days back, we previously reported on how River Otters in Illinois were rebounding with vigor and spreading their seed across that State-----Conversely, South Carolina River Otters are threatened due to poor water quality, reduced cover due to habitat destruction, farmer and household pesticide use and overtrapping.............Otters dietary and habitat requirements include abundant supplies of fish, frogs, crabs aquatic plants, minimally polluted water, sufficiently vegetated river banks and old tree hollows near the water’s edge(for nest building).........Becasue of these comprehensive set of life requirements", River Otters are considered an indicator species whose presence or absence reflects the overall health of an entire estuary ecosystem

Appreciating the otters among us(ILLINOIS)

    The young river otter pup relaxes by vocalizing in the back yard.
    The young river otter pup relaxes by vocalizing in the back yard.

    We were raised in families with strong connections to the land and nature and resolute expectations that we would be good environmental stewards. Over the years we’ve tried to responsibly manage the natural resources of our property along the Okatie River and since May we’ve had visits from a pair of beautiful river otters on four separate evenings.

    Although the S.C. Department of Natural Resources reports that river otters should be commonly found along the waterways of the Lower Coastal Plain, these semi-aquatic mammals are now a threatened species because of pesticide poisoning, waterway pollution, habitat loss caused by destruction of wetlands and riverside buffers, and illegal trapping.

    According to friends who remember times past when river otters were plentiful around here, otters breed in the late winter to early spring and after 60 days of active gestation give birth to litters of one to five young ones which are called pups. Although otter pairs are thought to be monogamous, males usually don’t help raise their young so family units of mother and pups will stay together until another litter is born. Otters are highly mobile and reportedly are able to cover as much as 20 miles of their home territory in a single day. These are social animals and they communicate with others using a variety of vocalizations that range from quiet chirps to almost shrill whistles or by leaving scent markings and dropping spraint.

    River otters are omnivorous foragers who do not store food so they kill only what they can consume at that meal. Because they are crepuscular the best chances to see otters happen around dawn or dusk and our two have always stopped by in the early evenings.

    During their usual half hour stays on our pool’s coping, we’ve had wonderful opportunity to observe how perfectly constructed and adapted they are for living both in water and on land. Their coat has two layers of specialized fur: A short dense oily under fur layer which traps air for insulation and warmth and long glistening guard hairs on the outer fur which are water repellent.
    Because they’ve few fat stores, proper coat conditioning is essential and their flexible spines allow river otters to groom their skin oil evenly on all body areas. Their vertebral design, just like a cheetah’s, allows for undulation on a vertical axis that results in fast motion. Sleek smooth long tubular body shapes allow for quick turns and efficient movements when hunting prey. Muscular, flat-bottomed tails about one-third the length of their bodies help with propulsion and steering in the water and balance when standing on the hinds legs while on land.

    Furred webbed feet help otters swim as fast as 5 to 7 mph because the webbing allows them to push a large volume of water behind them with sufficient force to lift their bodies higher above the water line. Their acute senses of hearing and smell help alert them to danger and location of food while on land while their nearsightedness helps them see better under water. According to a wildlife biologist friend, within otters’ nostrils and ears are specialized skin valves which protectively close during submersion where otters have been known to hold their breath for as long as 4 minutes. And, finally, otters have several types of whiskers on their head all of which are sensitive to touch and movement of air but the exceptionally thick, stiff long whiskers on their cheeks probably are used to locate prey.

    Our two river otters often will have a small drink of water before starting grooming activities that require considerable time. The bond between them is palpable and among ways they show their great affection is by the rubbing of heads and lying closely together. Few animal behaviors are more fascinating to us than the exuberant play of these animals. The pup will suddenly romp through our riparian buffer, then crouch low and then pop his head up to initiate a game of peek-a-boo or he’ll toss a small stick up in the air, watch it fall and then bound over and retrieve it. Wrestling is also a popular sports entertainment and it’s usually accompanied by yelps and grunts. Purposeful play to hone predator skills is how we’d explain these activities but when they leave our yard to return to the Okatie River by taking a running start to sliding down our vegetated riverbank it seems as if they’re doing it just for sheer fun.

    All of our collective efforts to clean, restore and protect our rivers benefit our wildlife as well as our communities and hopefully one day river otters will once again be plentiful.

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