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River Otter

Otter pool party
A romp of agile otters have a spacious new home to enjoy. It’s designed to bring out the best in their natural behaviors. You’ll see them scampering up and down multi-tiered landscape which features a lengthy stream, waterfalls and cascades. You’ll be fascinated by their climbing abilities and athleticism underwater. Otter fans can come face-to- furry-face with their favorite mammals at River Otter Falls inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest. 

The otters will explore their habitat in various groups each day, so you might see two, three or four otters at any one time playfully tussling with one another. Learn more about our new Otter exhibit.

Lontra canadensis


  River Otter Falls in the Cove Forest in River Journey

American River Otters

Otters use special flaps to close off their nostrils and ears when underwater. They may remain submerged for up to eight minutes on one breath. Otters are well-designed for swimming and living in cold mountain streams. A member of the weasel family, it has an elongated body, short legs, webbed feet and a long stout tail. Out of the water it walks with an awkward humpbacked gait, sometimes belly-sliding down muddy or snow-covered hills. On the surface of the water it dog paddles, but underwater the otter swims with its entire body, pushing with its webbed feet and steering with its long tail. Its thick, sleek coat, which keeps it dry and warm, is made up of two types of hair. The longer outer hairs, called guard hairs, are water repellent. River otters make use of dens created by other animals, including beavers, and always give birth to their young between February and April. 

North American river otters are protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II. Due to reintroduction and other conservation programs, populations have grown or become re-established in areas of their natural range.

Fan Photo

Photo by Bren Bowerman

About This Animal

SIZE:  Length 35-51.2 inches; weight 11-31 lbs 

RANGE: Throughout Canada and United States except areas in Southwest. 

HABITAT: Fresh water and marine habitats such as rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps and estuaries in cold and warm environments and at a variety of elevations.

DIET: Crayfish, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles and fish as well as some terrestrial organisms such as small mammals, birds, eggs and, occasionally, some aquatic plants.