When I think of cute and cuddly mammals, both in kid and adult form, what comes to mind is the gregarious, charismatic river otter, which may be elusive but can be found in Yellowstone National Park.
I was preparing to support the river otter field seminar but I wasn’t confident we would actually see any otters. It wasn’t that pessimism was rearing its ugly head, more that few otters had been spotted this summer.
There was a photography course running simultaneously with the river otter course and as the photographers were leaving for the field, I jokingly gave one of the instructors his marching order for the day – find river otters. His reply, “Since we are going to a lake, I guess we won’t be finding any river otters.” Ok buddy, I’m not that naïve.
The otter class left for the field as well, hiking down to the Lamar River to scout for otters but, in lieu of the actual mammal, what greeted us was a fresh stonefly hatch. No matter how tightly I buttoned my shirt, those fat, juicy flies found their way in…lovely! Although we found no otters that morning, we did find evidence they had been there recently – prints down by the shore, as well as denning signs and latrines. We headed back to the ranch feeling one step closer to finding the real deal.
When the photography class returned later that morning they were gloating as they showed us photos of river otters at Trout Lake, just east of the ranch, where the cutthroat trout were spawning. Our plan was to head there after dinner, hoping dusk would find these little cuties still romping around the lake.
Hiking around Trout Lake near dusk was lovely but devoid of otters so we headed over the hill to Buck Lake, where we found an otter trail but none in sight. Thinking our day was going to be a bust, we hiked back over to Trout Lake and as we crested the hill we saw a mammal swimming across the lake and soon found not one but four otters on a fallen log, near the inlet where the cutthroat were spawning. We spent two gleeful hours busily snapping photos of their antics – fishing, eating, and playing. Nothing more would have needed to happen during this seminar and it would have been labeled a success.
Just a few stats on these little charmers:
- The species found in Yellowstone National Park is the North American river otter. They are a member of the weasel, badger, and marten family.
- Mostly crepuscular, they can be best spotted at dusk or dawn.
- They grow to an adult length of 3.5 to 4 feet and weigh from 11 – 33 lbs.
- Long, stiff facial whiskers can detect prey, even underwater.
- They close their ears and nostrils when swimming underwater, allowing them to easily stay under for 2-3 minutes.
- They have large, fully webbed feet and a tail that serves as a rudder.
- Females breed in the spring and the egg floats freely in the womb until winter, when it attaches to the uterine wall.
- Typically 2-3 pups are birthed per litter.
We turned up ‘otterless’ the next two days but there was plenty of sign (scat) to collect, to clean and view under the microscopes, telling us on what these little guys were eating. We were more than content with that. 🙂
Yellowstone river otters can most easily be seen in the winter, when their dark fur readily stands out against the white snow. They do not hibernate like other park mammals, so can be seen slip sliding across the ice and snow.
If you are interested in learning more about the educational programs offered by Yellowstone Forever, go to www.yellowstone.org and check them out. You won’t be disappointed.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Yellowstone Forever.
50 thoughts on “River Otters of Yellowstone ~ Yellowstone Forever Field Seminar Series”
What a bunch of cuties. I’m sure you all were thrilled with the success of your quest. Fantastic collection of photos.
Thanks Ingrid. Otters are always fun to watch, no matter where they are. I would love to see them in Yellowstone in the winter.
Any thoughts to spending winter in Yellowstone?
I would really love to experience Yellowstone in the winter again Ingrid. As you might remember, we lived there for over 2 years so know what winters can be like there. Yellowstone Forever has the same gig at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the winter but I don’t think I would feel comfortable driving the bus and being responsible for students during potential snowstorms.
Yes, I remember that you’ve experienced Yellowstone in the winter and wondered if you’d consider doing it again. I occasionally (emphasis on occasionally) miss the still beauty of the Colorado Rockies in winter. Perhaps a quick trip to Flagstaff this winter will squash any future desires 😆 The thought of driving in snow or ice is definitely a deterrent.
I do miss the four seasons at time, although don’t want to be in a situation where I am forced to shovel snow again. Driving on ice has never been something I’ve enjoyed doing.
Fabulous pictures of otters.
Thanks so much! They are adorable, aren’t they?
River otters are among my favorites! How fun that you found your otters and captured such wonderful photos of them. We’ve been fortunate to have great sightings of river otters, too, most recently when we were biking near Port Angeles this summer. A family of three were so curious about us they came to shore to investigate. We spent about a half-hour enjoying their antics and photographing them. Thanks for another great little wildlife class! I learned some new interesting facts from you. :-))
My pleasure Laurel. I would have loved to spend time on Vancouver Island with you and Eric. What sights you have seen!
If I could be any Yellowstone animal it would be an otter. I love fish, and I love how much fun they seem to be having all the time! I think if I were an otter I’d be eating fish and laughing all day long!
Your comment made me smile Julianne. Looking forward to hearing more about your paddling adventure.
That’s so cool. You guys had a great summer. Frank
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We certainly did. Looking forward to seeing you both again soon.
They are beautiful creatures, aren’t they?
These are my all time favorite mammal!! I LOVE otters. They are so darn cute and playful. I can just imagine how quickly your two hours flew by as you watched them play. You had way too few photos!! I love the one otter “strangling” the other;) So glad you continued to perservere and finally got your reward! Sweet!
They are probably one of my favorite mammals as well Pam. I have several more photos, but didn’t want to bore those who might not be so enamored with otters. 🙂
Gorgeous photos of these adorable critters! I’ve never seen an otter in the wild, not for lack of trying though!
They can be pretty elusive. I wasn’t really expecting to see any this summer in Yellowstone.
With our gorgeous photos, you make this rather ugly animal look adoptable. I love the photos of all the otters laying all over the place. How much fun they must be having. I had no idea that they do no hibernate. Thanks for all the info. You have made me appreciate them much more than I did.
I grew to love them after spending time a few years ago watching them play and hunt. It was so much fun to watch them try to catch cutthroat trout at the lake this summer.
Yes they are!
What a wonderful experience. It must have been amazing to have two hours to sit and watch them. So Cute. And you got some great shots!
Thanks Alison. I had a new camera for that so I was definitely winging it for most of the shots.
Thanks for sharing your otter experience and photos. What a fun time, they are so interesting and it was amazing for you to get so much time with them!
We felt honored as not many saw otters at Trout Lake this summer.
I just love those otter photos! How perfect that they showed up for the seminar.
We saw a bunch of sea otters at Morro Bay a few years ago and they were so much fun to watch.
They are about as cute as they can be!
they are too cute! we’ve even seen a few otters here in southeast wisconsin this fall.
Yes David, they are adorable!
I, too, love otters. I remember seeing a few, now and then, while in Yellowstone, but I don’t have the talent with the camera, as you do. Your new heading picture is absolutely beautiful. I love the way you have captured the reflection.
Thanks Joan. Are you settled in back home now?
Yes, I am. Got home a week ago Sunday.
Hope all is good.
LuAnn your photos of the otters are astounding. You must have been thrilled to get so close. I have always loved watching otters. Just can’t help but smile at the sight of them.
Thanks Sue! And yes, those little darlings always manage to put a smile on my face.
As always LuAnn, great photos. I’m très envious. In all my years I’ve been many places where otters were supposed to be and I’ve never seen one in the wild. Maybe it’s because I’ve been looking in rivers for river otters all these years. 🙂 ~ James
They are quite elusive James. We were quite fortunate to get a glimpse.
Those are very cute furry otters:)
Yes they are!
Such endearing creatures! And you have captured them so well. Have never seen otters in the wild either.
PS: Love the new theme LuAnn.
Well hello Madhu! Hope you are well and having wonderful adventures. River otters are about as cute as they can be. I will have to stop by and see what you are doing these days.
Oh, I loved this post, LuAnn! I remember running into beaver and their dams years ago in the Gardiner areas but neither my husband (who’d been going to Yellowstone at least once a year since grade school) nor I had ever heard of the river otters in Yellowstone. You’ve managed to capture their playfulness beautifully and I can imagine your sheer wonder at having a chance to watch them for a couple of hours. Your time in Yellowstone was magical with many highlights but I have to think that this day was really a standout! Anita
This day was definitely a stand-out Anita!
this has been on my screen since you wrote the post, and finally i’m online long enough to comment! what precious otters, and tehy bring a smile to my face every time i look at them! thank you so much, and thanks for sharing your life with all of us. you both definitely squeeze the most out of each day! love, lisa
Thanks so much Lisa! Otters are one of my favorite mammals. 🙂
Otters are cool. Nice pictures. I really like the photos of the otters.
Thank you so much!