I checked the cams for one of my research projects this morning, and when I perused the pictures the one below caused me to do a double-take.
I can't be 100% certain, but I'm pretty confident this is a River Otter (Lontra canadensis).
The wide long tail....the "slicked" back appearance of the fur....and the heavy creases in the pad of that right hind foot.
See an example of an otter rump here.
An example of some otter hind feet here (scroll down).
Your thoughts on this would be much apprecaited!
Why is this so interesting to me?
First of all....I have a fondness for Mustelids....and have always went the extra-mile for pics of them.
Second of all, I've gotten so few opportunities to get pictures of River Otters (see here, here, and here). Furthermore, I've been cam-trapping this property for almost two years with no otters!
Third: this location is high and dry (on a hill surrounded by pine trees and deciduous hardwoods). The nearest appreciable water body is a small-medium sized stream about 0.32 miles to the west. Coming to the spot with the camera from that stream would require crossing a county road, some back yards and a corn field. There is a stormwater retention pond on an industrial property to the south (about 0.12 miles from the camera) but it doesn't strike me as big enough for otters. It also would require crossing a fairly busy county road. Just beyond the retention pond is a ditch (0.16 miles from the camera). Yet, at the point when this ditch is closest to the camera, it's barely a trickle. As one follows the ditch further south, it begins to widen (~ 0.32 miles from the camera) and eventually reaches the point that it's fed by a small-medium sized creek (0.55 miles from the camera location).
Now, it's no shock that otters can move considerable distances. Movements of up to 42 km (26 miles) along a stream/river in one day have been reported (Melquist and Hornocker 1983).
But the picture above would be of an overland movement.
Furthermore, this critter is heading north. If he/she kept on this trajectory, he would run into a deciduous hardwood forest that is in an early stage of succession (lots of shrubs, etc.) and then move into a fallow grassland/old field. Beyond this, in all directions are agricultural fields. To the north or east of this camera, the otter would have to travel 2-3 miles (through agricultural fields) to reach a decent water body again. Of course, she/he could cut back to the west and hit the stream that runs north-south again (like I said, it's about 0.32 miles from the camera).
However, some digging in the literature revealed that sizeable overland movements are known for River Otters....including treks over mountain ranges! Magoun and Valkenburg (1977) report new observations (at that time) of River Otters on the north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska. This would have required they travel 150-200 km (~93-124 miles) from the places where they had been previously known on the south edge of the range.
Thus, I suppose the little overland movement I observed isn't so suprising.
Regardless, the picture of this critter occurred on my birthday.
So....happy birthday to me!!!
Magoun, A.J. and P. Valkenburg. 1977. The River Otter (Lutra canadensis) on the north slope of the Brooks Range, Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist 91:303-305.
Melquist, W.E. and M.G. Hornocker. 1983. Ecology of River Otters in west central Idaho. Wildlife Monographs no. 83. pp. 3-60.