Was that a river otter? DI sightings you ought to know about

There has been quite a buzz in the neighborhood lately about otter sightings, several of which have centered around Smythe Lake.
Folks have asked on various Daniel Island Facebook pages if there are otters here, if what they have seen might possibly be mink, and other questions about the critters that have been sporadically showing themselves recently.
I live about two blocks from Smythe Lake, and I definitely saw an otter scoot up the finger of marsh behind our house toward the lake a few weeks ago.
Given how infrequently they are seen, it might surprise our readers to know that the North American river otter, Lontra canadensis, has well-established populations in every county in South Carolina and that according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, it is common here in the Lowcountry. Otters are primarily nocturnal, though, so daytime sightings are not all that frequent.
As for minks, we also have them in our area, but they are tiny compared to otters. Standing only three to four inches high at the shoulder and weighing around two pounds, minks are a 10th of the size of their larger otter cousins and are less commonly encountered.
As for otters, males average 15 to 20 pounds, with females being a little smaller. They can be found in our salt marshes, rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps swimming, eating, and frequently playing, especially where they can find a nice muddy bank to slide down into the water. Like bottle-nosed dolphins, otters just seem to enjoy messing around sometimes.
They are also highly-developed predators and can be quite fierce when feeling cornered, defending territory, or protecting their young. They have been documented to attack, and even kill, dogs in the water.
If given adequate space, otters are graceful, effortless swimmers, and fun to watch. Their primary food source is fish, but according to SCDNR, they might eat almost any animal they encounter in their environment, from crabs and crayfish to mollusks, turtles, and ducks.
Otters exhibit a fascinating reproductive phenomenon known as delayed implantation. After breeding, development of the young otters inside the mother is arrested by slowing or stopping mitosis, or cell splitting, until environmental conditions are favorable for further development and birth. This means that otters’ gestation periods vary and can be as long as 10 months. Once born, young otters tend to stay with their mothers for about a year before heading off on their own.
While various factors plague the otter nationwide, the South Carolina population is stable, and some of ours have even been trapped and transported to other states to help populations there.
The otter appears to be in a general comeback across the United States and has reestablished itself in several states where it was completely extirpated. They are hardy animals and can live for over a decade. The oldest recorded otter in South Carolina was 12 years old.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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