The most effective way to trap an otter is to place a foothold or body-grip trap near active otter slides, trails, latrines, dens, or other high traffic areas. Bait the trap with fresh fish, crayfish, frogs, or other food otters like to eat in the wild.
This article gives a step-by-step guide on how to trap an otter. Learn what bait and traps work best to catch otters without harm. Gain key otter trapping tips from experienced trappers and wildlife experts.
- How to Trap an Otter? (5 Steps)
- Best Bait for Trapping Otters
- Otter Trapping Tips
- Are Otters Dangerous?
- What Diseases Do Otters Carry?
- Are Otters a Nuisance?
- Are Otters Protected?
- Can You Hunt Otters?
- What Animals Prey Upon Otters?
- Can You Domesticate an Otter and Keep One as a Pet?
How to Trap an Otter? (5 Steps)
Preparing carefully is key to trapping an otter. Follow these steps to ensure you trap otters humanely and effectively:
1. Choose the Right Trap
The trap you use depends on your purpose – relocating or harvesting otters.
- Foothold traps are designed to grasp the otter’s foot without injuring it. The padded jaws close around the paw securely but without breaking skin or crushing bones. Use foothold traps if you intend to relocate the otter. Select a double longspring or coil-spring foothold trap in size 11⁄2 or 2 for river otters.
- Body-grip traps are designed to kill the otter quickly and humanely. These traps cause immediate unconsciousness by closing tightly around the otter’s torso. Use these if you intend to harvest the otter. For river otters, choose body-grip traps in size 160, 220, or 280.
Make sure the trap size suits the otter’s foot size or body size. Traps must be large enough to avoid injury.
2. Pick Ideal Locations
Otters tend to follow the same paths as they swim and hunt. Set traps along:
- Slides – look for muddy or snowy slopes along the banks that otters use to enter and exit the water. Otter slides are marked by muddy streaks or compressed snow. Place traps at the bottom of the slide, level with the water.
- Latrines – spots where otters repeatedly deposit droppings. Look for areas with piles of otter waste and set traps nearby.
- Under bridges – otters regularly swim under bridges near their habitat. Find these bridges and place traps along the banks on both sides.
- Near dens – if you locate an otter’s underground den, you can set traps at the entrance they use to come and go.
Focus on areas with otter tracks or droppings as signs of high traffic areas. Do not set traps in deep water, as they might get triggered and lost.
3. Bait the Trap
Use bait that otters find irresistible for the trap:
- Fish – use fresh fish like trout, salmon, catfish, suckers, or chub. Whole fish work best.
- Crayfish – a favored otter food, are effective bait. Opt for live crayfish when available.
- Frogs – commonly preyed upon by otters, can be used as bait. Both live and dead whole frogs are suitable.
Secure the bait tightly to ensure the otter triggers the trap while attempting to steal it. Use wire or string to attach the bait directly to the trap’s trigger.
4. Set and Secure the Trap
- Set foothold trap triggers to activate with 4-5 lbs of pressure. For body-grip traps, use at least 10 lbs to ensure the otter’s entire torso is caught.
- Use trap chains and swivels to fasten the trap securely to a stable object, such as a tree root. This prevents the trap from being washed away after catching an otter.
- On each trap, attach a waterproof tag displaying your name, address, and license number. This is required by law.
- Regularly check traps every 24 hours, as leaving otters trapped longer is illegal and inhumane.
5. Handle and Release the Otter
- When approaching, hold a catchpole or net cautiously. Trapped otters are likely to be agitated and may bite. To protect yourself from bites, wear thick gloves and coveralls.
- With foothold traps, use the catchpole to pin the otter, preventing it from twisting away. Then step on the trap springs to release and carefully remove the trap from the otter’s foot.
- Examine the otter for cuts, broken bones, and tooth damage. Ensure its breathing rate is below 40 breaths per minute, which is normal for an adult otter.
- Put the otter in a ventilated transport box, which should be lined with straw bedding to keep it stable. Cover the box to help reduce the otter’s stress.
- Move the otter at least 10 miles from the capture site to stop it from coming back. Release the otter near a water source and a covered area to offer it escape routes.
- Otters might be drowsy from sedation. After releasing, watch the otter and avoid releasing in extreme temperatures.
Best Bait for Trapping Otters
Using the right bait is key to successfully trapping otters. Otters are enticed by specific foods they regularly hunt and eat. Here are the top otter bait options:
Fish is a staple of the otter diet in the wild. Excellent fish choices for bait include:
- Trout – A favorite food source. Use whole rainbow, brown, or brook trout of 4-6 inches.
- Salmon – Try Atlantic salmon around the same small size.
- Catfish – Channel catfish, bullheads, and madtoms make great bait.
- Suckers – Otters feed on these bottom-dwellers. Use 4-6 inch redhorse or white suckers.
Always use fresh, not rotten, whole fish for the best results. Cut open the belly and spread the entrails to disperse scent.
Otters love these small crustaceans. Use live crayfish for best results, but you can also use freshly killed or frozen:
- Rusty crayfish – Abundant and widespread species otters consume
- Virile crayfish – Another type otters forage in northern regions
- Red swamp crayfish – Prevalent in the south and eaten by otters there
Otters prey on frogs living around waterways. Good frog bait choices include:
- Bullfrogs – Readily eaten by otters. Use medium 4-5 inch frogs.
- Green frogs – Abundant species otters feed on.
- Leopard frogs – Live or dead leopard frogs attract otters.
As shellfish lovers, otters go for clams. Use small live mussels or fingernail clams. Crack shells slightly to release scent.
Mixing up bait types – fish, shellfish, frogs – seems to work best. Check regulations on live bait in your state. With the right bait, you’ll appeal to the otter’s wild food preferences.
Otter Trapping Tips
Trapping otters takes patience and skill.
Look for the Right Signs
- Search for slides and trails – Otter slides along banks leave muddy or flattened grass trails. Follow these to find the best trap spots.
- Identify latrines – Look for piles of otter waste contain fish scales and bones. Latrine sites make productive trapping spots.
- Note tracks & scat – Finding otter tracks and droppings identify active areas to target.
Use Proven Lures
- Anise oil – Otters are drawn to this pungent scent. Apply it near traps.
- Beaver castor – The musky scent attracts otters. Sprinkle castor around trap locations.
- Fish oil – Dab this oily substance on trap jaws to attract otters.
Set Traps in the Right Spots
- Focus near dens – Funnel otters towards traps by placing them near den entrances/exits.
- Set across trails – Position traps at choke points along trails otters use.
- Try blind sets – Make completely concealed sets along banks without any lure.
Use Appropriate Trapping Method
- On land, use footholds or boxes with bait.
- In water, set body-gripping or specialized submersion traps.
- For catch and release, avoid body-gripping traps which are kill traps.
Check Traps Frequently
- Check traps daily at minimum to avoid otters suffering in traps.
- Visit more than once a day during warm months if possible.
- Don’t leave otters in traps for extended periods.
Following these expert tips will enhance your efficiency and ethical approach in trapping otters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Mike is the Founder of Familylifeshare. Mike is well-knowledged in marriage, parenting, dogs, blogging and committed to sharing his knowledge and expertise with his readers. Know more about Mike from here.