Otters seem to be just utterly innocuous aquatic creatures to the average web surfer stumbling upon the latest viral video of a cute otter juggling stones or being raised indoors as if it were a weasel. However, those of us who fish or own stocked ponds know better.
You can trap an otter by placing the appropriate trap such as a spring-loaded or body grip trap prepared with bait near a den entry or channel where the otter is known to pass by. Otters are simply too intelligent to fall for decoys, ultrasound or shun repellents, but will fall for bait that smell like their favorite foods.
Knowing basic facts about otter physiology and lifestyle, as well as any legal boundaries involving interaction with them is essential for your ordeal. Otter psychology and pathology is a must-know as well for those interested in raising them as pets, as well.
How to Trap Otters?
Before trapping river otters, make sure you’ve checked with your local wildlife centers and consulted laws concerning trapping beforehand. Once you’ve cleared those crucial steps, you’re ready to determine the appropriate trap for the situation.
Coil-spring foothold traps, body grip traps work well in both channels and trails on land which otters navigate. Look for tracks or trail groove marks, and place the trap within the water or disguise it with surrounding vegetation or dirt.
Depending on the type of trap selected, you always need to make sure you placed it at the most effective location possible, whether it be where otters are observed to slide, groom, or even swim.
Otters have been reported to use abandoned beaver dens as their own. After making sure there is no beaver still lodged in there instead, setting a body grip trap at the den’s entrance would work.
If you can trace the awful smell of otter feces to the latrine site where otters use as their dumping ground, placing multiple foothold traps around this site would yield optimal results.
Leg hold traps are generally the most common traps for trapping agile otters in the water, quickly ensnaring them on the move.
Always make sure that your trap allows the otter to breath, especially if it is submerged in water. You do not want to return to check your trap to find a dead otter in it.
How Do You Bait Otters?
Choosing a bait is first preceded by choosing the appropriate trap for the situation. In addition to paw hold traps and live cage traps, many professionals have found spring load and gravity traps to be ideal for trapping otters.
Since otters would eat pretty much anything, you can use cat food, fruit to vegetables such as corn as bait. Fish-based foods would be particularly effective, considering the animal’s aquatic diet, perhaps fresh fish or sardines. Otters also have a sweet tooth, which you can bear in mind when choosing bait.
Be sure to always wear thick gloves when handling a wild animal within a trap, especially when otters with their sharp teeth can yield a painful bite.
What’s the Best Bait to Trap Otters With?
Bait based on fish-products may be the best thing to trap otters with, since it is based off their natural diet.
Alternatively, Otters may be easier to bait than most wild animals because of their sweet tooth. This is convenient for the trapper because sweets are cheap compared to meat products, and have a less chance of being taken by other carnivorous or herbivorous animals.
What Do Otters Eat?
Otters’ diets vary according to what season it is, where their habitat is situated, and even according to species. However, most wild otters are carnivorous, with the sea otter being a tiny exception since it does include seaweed and kelp in its diet.
Being carnivorous, otters feast on a variety of meats from the fish they catch, to crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, and amphibians. The giant otter species eats mainly fishes and crabs.
Land otters feed on insects, frogs, eggs, birds, even critters such as rabbits or rodents. They are basically overgrown ferrets, though grown with greater mass and agility.
Since otters need to generate body heat for all their swimming habits, they possess a high metabolic rate which understandably requires a high intake of food. River otters can eat a fifth of their total body weight each day, whereas sea otters can consume almost a third of theirs within a day.
The habits and methods of eating differ by species as well. Prey can be eaten while being held in their paws while still swimming in the water, whereas larger catches are hauled onto shore to be consumed at leisure.
Some species of otters have been observed to use rocks to crack open mussel shells. Tool usage, as well as play, have been associated with animal intelligence in the field of animal research. It’s no wonder otters are so clever, juggling with the same rocks they’ve used to break open an oyster!
Do Otters Eat Fruit?
A generic rule of thumb for feeding otters fruits is, that if it’s poisonous and/or unsafe for cats and dogs, it probably shouldn’t be fed to otters. Some fruits such as peach and loquat have cyanide in their seeds, for example, which can be potentially lethal for animals once ingested.
Although it is not specified which species of otter it was observed in this inquiry, it is revealed that “otters do like berries and fruits like blackberries, blueberries, cherries and so on”. The report goes on to say that they even love grapes and tomatoes, and that otters “eat more fruit than people think,” so for those interested in domesticating otters, heed note.
Evidently otters enjoy fruits and vegetation for their texture, so it is recommended to provide a variety of squishy (tomatoes, melons) to crunchy fruits like apples for them to enjoy.
What Animals Prey Upon Otters?
While humans remain the biggest threat to otters, having hunted and drastically reduced their numbers centuries ago for their fur, pollution and global warming are other threats to their well-being.
However, in the wild, larger or stronger predators such as the wolf, coyote and fox have made meals of otter for a long time. On land, otters must also look out for large felines such as bobcats and cougars, and even bears.
In tropical or certain habitats, even crocodilian animals such as the caiman prey upon otter. However, groups of otters have been known to overpower and even be able to kill such powerful creatures in the water from sheer teamwork.
Your domestic dog, depending on its breed, is also a threat for an otter, though an otter will consider its size and ferocity before engaging or fleeing with Lassie.
Why Do Otters Hold or Juggle Rocks?
Otters are often pictured cradling a rock while swimming on its back or seen juggling multiple stones while lying on the ground. If you spot an otter swimming with an object in its hand, its likely to be the shell or clam that will be cracked open and eaten while on the move, or simply an otter playing.
Playing and manipulation of objects in its environment has been linked with numerous evidence of animal intelligence, and can be observed in animals such as raccoons to crows. Otters, being one of the most intelligent critters unfortunately to be labeled as pests, are no exception.
Sea otters are especially interesting regarding their ability to use tools. They use rocks and other hard objects to crack open crustaceans and mollusks to get at the fleshy parts within.
Where Do River Otters Sleep at Night?
River Otters can be either diurnal or nocturnal, though most species are more active at night. The North American River Otter, for instance, is nocturnal three seasons and more diurnal only in the winter. The European River Otter shares similar sleeping habits, spending most of the day sleeping in undergrowth or the holes which are their dens.
Freshwater otters generally rest and sleep on land, which can be either in their dens or above ground. They are not too fussy regarding their location for sleep, as long as it is in an area of not too much disturbance and noise, with plenty of shelter for coverage. This can be from a heap of branches or roots, even, so long as it blocks out sunlight.
Because River otters are solitary, they tend to be more territorial than species of otters that are more communal. Therefore it is safe to assume that a single river otter is sleeping within its den.
However, for homes or buildings installed near bodies of water such as rivers, an otter may find the embankment a worthy place to squat in. Smell and hygiene become problematic as otter feces as well as the food they drag into their dens are especially rank during the hot, humid weather.
Installing a fence around your property or the perimeter of a private pond or boat dock may keep these critters out. Though expensive, they are the most reliable method to exclude unwanted animals out. If fencing is not a feasible solution, trapping and relocation is the next best thing.
Are Otters Dangerous?
Fully-grown otters can certainly be considered “dangerous” to the prey they hunt, but what about our pets, property, or even ourselves?
Otters in general try to avoid humans and would normally never go out of their way to be seen by one. Like any wildlife, otters can become aggressive or desperate when threatened. If it feels cornered, an otter can use its sharp claws and canine teeth to seriously injure family pets and children.
To this date there have been only 39 recorded otter attacks on humans dating all the way back to 1875 ! More than half of these occurred in the last 20 years, a third of which were due to the rabies virus.
A wild otter will not pursue you or confront you in the water, unless it was defending its young or food source. Social otters have the tendency to hunt and therefore fend off predators in packs, as well.
One of the primary dangers of otters doesn’t even stem from their direct presence itself, so much as it does from their remnants. When otters are present around bodies of water, their fecal matter can gather up to 20 yards from the shorelines. In addition to presenting a threat to hygiene, they also litter the area with the bones and scales of their meals, attracting flies and other unwanted pests.
What Diseases do Otters Carry?
Like any wild animal, the risk of being scratched or bitten by an otter carries the risk of transmitting diseases. Some species of bacteria from these bites can cause infections, for example. Therefore always wear gloves and thick protective clothing when handling live otters.
Some parasites that otters carry are toxoplasma gondii; the marine Brucella bacteria, and the fungus Coccidioides immitis, which cases the “Valley Fever” in humans. The “cocci” fungal diseases are really serious, but can be prevented in addition to wearing protective clothing, with donning facial coverings such as mask and goggles.
River otters have been reported to have had rabies, which is the deadliest and most infamous zoonotic disease of any mammal. This condition causes flu-like symptoms, which, the longer one seeks treatment, the higher the chance of fatality. Once bitten, seek immediate medical attention and treatment.
Are Otters a Nuisance?
As mentioned above, otters are considered a nuisance to humans who fish or own property including fishing ponds. Their presence and dietary needs reduce fishing populations in such bodies of water they swim in, as well as other critters in the area.
Ironically, while some species of otters are endangered or threatened themselves such as sea otters or European river otters, their appetite and hunting talents are a threat to bird colonies who perch nearby rivers or other endangered species such as certain eagles.
In addition, the fecal waste they leave behind is not only a blot on the landscape but carries the risk of diseases as well. Plus, otter scat smells especially strong, since they are mainly carnivores.
People have reported finding otters living underneath their houses or using the underside of their porches as dens, which can cause damage to the building’s foundation.
Do Otters Eat Muskrats?
Yes, otters do eat muskrats. In fact, they can eat almost anything, from crayfish, lizards, ducks, snakes, turtles, and so on. So yes, to an extent the otter can help control other pest species through their voracious appetites, among them including voles and muskrats.
Because muskrats share the same habitat as otters, being also excellent swimmers, they often fall prey to otters. Being pest species themselves, whose beaver-like tendencies have the potential to undermine many dams, their natural enemies help control their population boom in the Americas.
Otters can choose to hunt either through ambush or through giving chase in longer pursuits. Whenever presented with the option of a meal it has never seen an otter may choose to hunt out of pure curiosity rather than hunger. Like cats, they can play with their prey before finishing with the kill.
Will Otters Eat All My Fish?
Considering how much an otter needs to eat every day, once an otter has found its entry into your stocked or private pond and realizes all the finned morsels trapped within it, you can almost be certain that the otter will devour them all, or stay for as long as possible to finish the job.
In addition to the fish in a body of water, an otter will munch through insects and any insect larvae within them as well.
Unless you can successfully relocate or scare off an otter family from your fish pond, they will likely return daily to deplete the pond of its trout; goldfish; anything that swims within it!
Are Otters Protected?
In some parts of the world, otters are protected, meaning they cannot be injured or killed under punishment by the law. Such laws were enacted due to heavy hunting for their fur, pollution and global warming.
In the United States, Otters are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which mainly concerns oil companies and their handling of oil spills which can taint and poison otters whom are considered a threatened species.
Conservation efforts are being established all over the globe in the preservation of sea and giant otters, whom are particularly vulnerable from predators and environmental factors.
Can You Hunt Otters?
Hunting otter is considered illegal in many areas, so you must first familiarize yourself with your state and local laws. Contact your wildlife center and local law bureaus to confirm the shooting and/or trapping of otters before taking any action.
If it is legal to kill otters in your area, you can use lethal body grip traps or you can shoot one with firearms. Please do not trap live otters and then drown them, as it is considered illegal in many states and is a painful way for any animal to die, which can last anywhere up to eight minutes.
Be advised that any attempt to poison an otter is considered illegal, and would cause complications anyway once the bait has been consumed. Trapping is considered the most effective way to get rid of otters, satisfying both humane and legal ramifications.
Can You Domesticate an Otter and Keep One as a Pet?
Otters certainly seem to be able to be domesticated, at least from viral internet videos, right? First of all, laws differ per locale/province/state, much less every nation. In the United States, keeping otters as pets is illegal in every state. Evidently, this hasn’t stopped certain individuals from sharing video updates on their family of otter pups.
Be advised that domesticating is different from taming. Domestication takes dozens, if not hundreds of selective breeding to accomplish. Taming is socializing a wild animal to make it more sociable around humans. The otter will still be a wild animal in this case and is therefore dangerous and unpredictable.
The European Otter, being protected, is not a good choice for a pet and sea otters are completely out of the question. The shyness, as well as nocturnal qualities of a species completely rule out its candidate for domestication.
However, keeping an otter as a pet isn’t advised, even if it were legal. As mentioned before, otters are hungry, needy creatures who require a lot of feeding to keep healthy. They are generally high-maintenance creatures that are expensive and demand the right conditions to thrive and be happy indoors, much less outside.
Not to mention, otter scat is infamous for its stench. Considering how much the otter eats, as well as its choice of meats, cleaning will be an extra effort of quantity as well as endurance. If the otter is young, it will take a while for it to learn bathroom etiquette.
An otter is highly active, playful and hyperactive, therefore keeping one indoors is almost a certain way to destroy valuable items and furniture in your domain. Otters will climb, scratch, and explore every nook and cranny within an enclosed space. If otters are denied the mental stimulation and socializing they need, they will be unhappy and their health subsequently deteriorates.
The owning of otters can also lead to other unforeseen consequences upon the community. For example, the pet fad of otters in Japan has resulted in the illegal smuggling of otters into Japan. Not to mention the lack of natural predators result in the decimation of local wildlife population for the otter’s diet.
If you really want an otter-like pet, we suggest getting a ferret. Ferrets and otters belong in the same family of Mustelidae weasels, and ferrets get far less wet. Ferrets are also cheaper to maintain and have become used to centuries of domestication as well.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare