Otters are great at surviving in cold weather. Because large flowing rivers don’t freeze in winter – only the surface does – otters just carry on like normal.
In The U.S. Do Otters Hibernate?
There are only 2 species of otter that live all year round in Northern America: the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) and the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris). Neither hibernates. These two otters spend their winters in almost the same way as their summers – although with a few small changes.
North American River Otters are normally nocturnal – and feed on mainly fish in all sorts of waterways, marshes, estuaries and even along the coast. They live in large groups and travel across land to reach different feeding grounds. However, in the winter months – they switch to being diurnal – and only hunt during the day.
Staying warm requires a lot of energy – so they need to make sure that the sun does most of their warming. By hiding in a cosy den when the temperatures are lowest can save them an immense amount of energy – helping them last through until spring again.
These otters also save energy by not trying to wade through deep snow with their short legs. They toboggan instead. By powering their way along the surface of the snow – they save huge amounts of energy – vital to keeping them alive through the harshest months. And they look adorable (Video below) playing in it too!
Sea Otters on the other hand can’t hibernate – as they live in the ocean all year round. Sea Otters can only stay warm enough to live in the ocean by scrupulously keeping their coats clean and well groomed (Video below) – something you can’t do if you go into a deep sleep for 4 months in winter.
Sea otters are also most numerous in Alaskan waters – so this is a clear sign that they are just fine right where they are all year. If they needed more food in winter or they got too cold – they just wouldn’t be found this far north.
Can Otters Swim When Rivers Freeze?
Otters catch their prey underwater – so when the tops of a river or lake are frozen – it doesn’t stop the otters from fishing underneath. As long as they can get into the water in the first place through a hole or crack – they can chase fish or dig for molluscs just as they would do in summer.
Otters don’t have a layer of blubber under their skin – like other aquatic mammals. They have to stay warm by trapping air under their thick fur, so as long as they can get enough food to keep their coat looking wonderful – they can stay warm and fish in almost freezing temperatures. Another reason why they only hunt during the day in winter. Coming out of the water is when they can get the coldest due to the effects of the wind.
Luckily, rolling in snow is a great way to dry off – even Polar Bears do it too! Snow-rolling during the warmer daytime temperatures can be a matter of life or death for the otters. Swimming at night and being cold in the lowest of temperatures would just be too much of a risk.
Do Otters Hibernate or Estivate? (Answered and Explained)
Otters, fascinating creatures of the wild, do not hibernate nor estivate. Instead, they possess a unique adaptation that allows them to remain active throughout the year. Snails’ hibernation and estivation clarified, but for otters, their endurance in cold or dry spells involves maintaining high metabolic rates and well-insulated fur. This ability enables otters to thrive in various climates without the need for prolonged periods of dormancy.
Do Otters Migrate In Winter?
It would therefore seem an option for otters to migrate during these colder months so they could stay warmer. However, they don’t really do this.
There are behavioural changes, however, within a family group, which means that otters often leave their usual patch in winter. They aren’t heading off to Florida though to meet up with their warmer relatives (otters are found all over Florida) – they are just dispersing slightly to increase the chances of feeding. Otter families can consume large amounts of prey and can easily clear out all the food in a small lake between them.
In winter – there is less food for them to eat as many other animals DO migrate away, hibernate, or bury themselves underground for the colder months. Otters just have a harder time finding them. Needless to say, if they are in a group of 5 hungry otters – they are going to run out of food quite quickly in the same spot. So heading out alone means they can search for food over a wider area.
However, you would think that sleeping alone in winter wouldn’t be as warm as being with your family?