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WHAT IS THE OTTER?


A mature male otter weighs 10-25 pounds and is 30-40 inches in length, plus a 12- to 15-inch tail. Females are slightly smaller. An otter is muscular, streamlined and solidly built, somewhat like a dachshund; height at the shoulder is about 10 inches. An otter's tail is long and tapered, thickest where it joins the body and furred its entire length. The face is broad, and the eyes protrude slightly.



Otter fur is a rich dark brown, lighter on the underparts; the throat and chin are grayish, the nose black and bare. Two fur layers -- short dense underfur and longer guard hairs -- combine with a subcutaneous layer of fat to insulate the body. In autumn, the normally thick fur grows in even thicker for extra cold resistance. All four feet are wide and webbed between the toes, although the hind pair are used more in swimming than the front pair.














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Otters obtain most of their food from the water. Fish are favorites: minnows, sunfish, suckers, carp and trout. Other foods are frogs, turtles, snails, mussels (an otter crunches the shells with its teeth), crayfish, snakes and snake eggs, worms, insects, aquatic plants, roots and, on occasion, muskrats. An otter is a fast, graceful swimmer, probably the most adept in water of all the land mammals. It can travel underwater a quarter-mile without coming up for air, dive 35-50 feet and, if necessary, stay submerged up to four minutes. While underwater, valve-like structures seal an otter's ears and nose, and its pulse rate drops, slowing blood and oxygen circulation and making possible long submersion.

 

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