River otters are the best fish hunters in Minnesota. Because they’re so good at getting food, they have plenty of time to play and less need to compete with each other. They’re fun to watch: often wrestling or spending hours sliding down muddy or snow-packed stream banks.

What They Eat

In the water, otters hunt fish, crayfish and amphibians. On land they can also catch chipmunks, mice and young rabbits.

Where They Live

River otters spend equal time on land and in water. They dig dens in river banks.

What They Do

Otters seem to move almost constantly. Movement together with soft, dense fur keeps them warm in Minnesota winters.

How They’re Doing

A century ago, otters became rare in Minnesota as their homes were drained and polluted. With recent wetland restoration, otters are coming back.


Where in the World

North America


River, Lake, Wetland

Conservation Status


Animal Facts

Head & body: 26-42 in
Tail: 12-18 in
Weight: 14-15 lbs for females 18-20 lbs for males
Lifespan: typically 8-9 years
Group name: romp, bevy, family, or raft

Taxonomic Category

Mammal, carnivore

Where at the Zoo

Medtronic Minnesota Trail

  • With eyes specially adapted for underwater vision, river otters are nearsighted above water.
  • River otters can remain underwater for more than 4 minutes and dive to depths greater than 60 feet! They swim an average of 6 mph, and can swim even faster for short distances by vertically flexing their bodies and tails back and forth along the surface of the water.
  • Oil and water don’t mix. Otters have glands under their tails that release oil used to waterproof their fur. To keep their oily coats clean and dry, otters must constantly groom themselves.
  • Air bubbles trapped between layers of fur helps otters stay warm in cold weather and cold water.
  • In murkey water, stiff whiskers act like anntenae and help otters detect moving prey and avoid obstacles.

River otters have recently been added as a species managed under the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) Otter Species Survival Plan (SSP). Because river otters are sensitive to habitat destruction and water pollution, they have been virtually eliminated throughout many parts of their original range, especially in the Midwest and East. They have been successfully reintroduced to many of these areas and are hopefully on a path to recovery.

Things the Zoo's Done/Doing

You can help protect the health of North American river otters by helping keep lakes, rivers, and wetlands clean! Keep litter, pet waste, and leaves out of street gutters and storm drains and dispose of household hazardous wastes properly. Chemicals poured down drains or tossed into the garbage can pollute local waterways.