by Barbara Walvoord
From Lathrop Lamp Post, April 13, 207
To everyone’s amazement, an otter has been visiting the retention pond behind the Teaberry homes on the east campus.
This pond was constructed when the Teaberry homes were first built in 1996, as part of the storm water runoff system required by law to protect our wetlands. It has a rubber liner on the bottom, but it’s full of cattails, and we’ve seen plenty of turtles, frogs, salamanders, and toads in it, so there must be a layer of mud on top of the rubber. Since the purpose of the pond is to filter pollutants from the road, roofs, and lawns, the water and mud may be polluted to some extent.
Fertilizer from the surrounding lawn undoubtedly contributes an abundance of nitrogen, leading to heavy algae growth in summer.
Nonetheless, here is our otter, playing in the pool. Where might it have come from? Where is it going?
The similarity between the word “water” and the word “otter” is no accident: both come from the same ancient proto-Indo-European language root. Otters have been around for millions of years, and are found in most parts of the world, in both freshwater and saltwater. Ours is probably a North American river otter (Lontra canadensis).
Otters need water. They feed mainly on fish, with side dishes of frog. They chase down their prey, using their sleek bodies and webbed feet for speed. They use water to travel, sometimes for great distances.
Otters also need forest. They will take over an old beaver den or make their own den under tree roots. If you’re out in the woods and smell fresh-cut hay, it may be the smell of the droppings otters use to mark the territory around their nests.
When they’re not fishing or home-building, otters love to play, apparently just for the fun of it, batting around small stones or making water slides on muddy banks. After living with their parents for a year, young otters take off on their own. Perhaps our otter is a young adult, looking for its own territory. Perhaps it’s a local resident just out for an exploratory swim in a different pool. How lucky we are that this otter has come up close so we can see that our water and our forest support these ancient, amazing, playful creatures.