Tracking Quiz website

Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #6 - Answer

The answer is RIVER OTTER.

Going in & out of water, sliding on its belly, eating fish, and leaving a body imprint with a fat tail were all otter clues.  Perhaps the trickiest clue was the small size of the footprints - I have seen other otter footprints almost twice as large, which seems to fall in line with most field guides, so this must have been a young otter.  These tracks & sign were an especially exciting experience for me because I never before would have believed that otters would visit a place like this - very close to the city of Hartford, in rather stagnant, polluted-looking lakes containing rusted hulks of junked cars, next to a railroad.

I have learned many things from otter tracks.  The most surprising lesson I have learned is that otters are pretty robust creatures, able to subsist in surprisingly urbanized and dirty waterways, contrary to popular belief & info in Tom Brown's field guide. Because otters travel from place to place primarily by swimming, and they are capable of swimming very fast, their home range can be huge.  But they don't need very deep water to travel around; I have seen otters (and nutrias) move thru 3" deep water by sliding on their belly and pushing themselves along with their feet.  Otters like to do the same thing in snow, and in this case the tracks will be very irregular, without a distinct "stride length".

Otters don't seem to have a ritual of hauling out of the water at any specific spot - I have found that because their territory is so large and they don't spend much time out of the water, I have to get out tracking very often to have any chance of finding otter tracks.  The most common places I have found otter tracks is on narrow strips of land in between two bodies of water, such as a peninsula or isthmus.

In addition to tracks, I also find "rolls" at these haul-out spots. Otters regularly need to roll in either grass or snow to fluff up their fur.  In snow, I'll sometimes find spots where an otter has rolled over & over, leaving a broad flattened area but no footprints.

Otters also love to slide on their bellies.  I have never found one of those "legendary" otter slides going down a stream bank; instead, I more commonly find belly slides on level ground.  And when otters slide, man, they just slide & slide & slide.  My observations have been that if there is snow on the ground or ice on a lake/river, otters' preferred mode of locomotion is sliding rather than walking or bounding. I have even found otter slides going uphill, on gentle grades.

Field guides say that otters chew their food very thoroughly, and the only recognizable remains in their scat are fish scales & bones, and I concur.  I have found that scat is commonly deposited at the site of a roll, and there are theories that otter scat is a form of scent marking.  Field guides say the scat can be either dry or mucousy - I always find it to be mucousy, and in snow the mucous bleeds out to stain the snow.  The green color to the scat of the otters in my territory is apparently pretty unusual, it is a mystery to me what food source in the cold season would cause that color.  Field guides say the scat can be black if it is very mucousy, or red if the otter has eaten crayfish.


Quiz #6 - Question      ...on to Quiz #7

The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!