Species Profile: Diadophis punctatus – Ring-necked snake

Scientific Name: Diadophis punctatus
Common Name(s): Ring-necked snake

Ring-Necked Snake

Ring-necked Snake ©Brian.gratwicke

 

Ring-necked Snake Defensive Posture

Ring-necked Snake Defensive Posture ©Glenn Bartolotti

 

Identification:
Ring-necked snakes are easily identifiable by the white, yellow, red, or orangish band around the neck. Dorsal colorations are olive, brown, bluish gray, or smoky black. Sometimes the band around neck is broken and hard to distinguish. Ventral coloration is generally yellowish orange to red with crescent-shaped black spots on the margins. Ring necked snakes are very small, with adults averaging 10-15in long. Although they are slightly venomous, their docile temperament and rear-facing fangs mean they pose no threat to humans. They have a unique defense posture whereby they curl up, exposing their belly, and “play dead.”

Range:
Ring-necked snakes are found throughout the United States, central Mexico, and southeastern Canada.

Ecology:
Ring-necked snakes can be found in a variety of habitats, preferring areas with cover and denning locations. For example, they are often found under shrubs surrounded by leaf litter, under rocks, or under woody debris. Open woodlands, hillsides, and the edges of water bodies all make good habitat for ring-necked snakes. Any burrows they may make can be communally shared, and will be deep enough to protect from the heat of the summer and the freezing temperatures of winter.

They are carnivorous, with their diet primarily consisting of small salamanders, earthworms, and slugs while occasionally consuming small lizards, frogs, and juvenile snakes of other species. Prey are subdued with constriction and envenomation. They are active during the night or twilight hours, meaning they are nocturnal or crepuscular.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, ring-necked snakes are a common creature in gardens, especially those with leaf litter or mulch. They can also be found in the many wooded areas around Bella Vista, often under leaves, woody debris, or rocks. Although they are harmless, it is never suggested to handle wildlife. Best to leave them be so they can eat pest species like garden slugs!

2 Flathead Catfish that were caught in Bella Vista Lakes.

Species Profile: Pylodictis Olivaris – Flathead Catfish

Scientific Name: Pylodictis olivaris
Common Name(s): Flathead Catfish, Mudcat, Shovelhead Cat

2 Flathead Catfish that were caught in Bella Vista Lakes.

Taken by Bella Vista Lakes and Parks personnel

 

Identification:
The flathead catfish is the second largest North American catfish. Its skin is a mottled brown and black. They can be distinguished from other catfish by their wideset mouth and large, flat forehead. Unlike the blue and channel catfish, the flathead lacks a deep fork on its tail fin. Instead, its tail fin is more rounded. Due to its coloration and tail fin shape, it may also be mistaken for one of the several bullhead catfish; however, the bullhead catfish lack a flat forehead. They are also relatively long lived, with a lifespan of up to 24 years. Flathead catfish have fleshy protrusions called barbles along their mouth, as well as spines located in the dorsal fin and both pectoral fins on their sides. Like all catfish, the flathead catfish has an adipose fin, which is a small fleshy projection on their back, just in front of their caudal or tail fin. They can grow up to 69 in. in length and weight up to 140 lbs.

 

Map showing the range of the Flathead Catfish in the US

Range:
Pylodictis olivaris is native to North America from the lower Great Lakes to Mexico. It has also been introduced to other river systems. They can have devastating impacts to native fishes when introduced outside of their natural range.

Ecology:
The flathead catfish is a voracious carnivore. It prefers live prey and will feed on almost anything that moves, including fish, insects, and crayfish.

Sexual maturity is reached within 3-5 years, typically. Breeding occurs in late June and early July. Nests are usually made in and around submerged logs, ledges, and debris. Males build the nests and defend the eggs. Males will also fan the eggs to provide fresh water and oxygen. Clutch size depends on the size of the female, with about 1200 eggs laid per pound of the female. Juvenile flathead are also very cannibalistic making them a bad choice as an aquaculture species.

The flathead catfish is said to have the best tasting flesh of the catfishes of North America. Filet quality and the size of the fish make the flathead catfish popular among anglers. This has led to an introduction to non-native waters in other parts of North America, such as waters in southern Canada and in the waters of the eastern slope of the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The highly voracious nature of the flathead means that local fish populations can rapidly decline in the presence of introduced flatheads.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, flathead catfish are not stocked in any of our lakes nor are there established populations. Their aggressive predation may have negative impacts on the fish populations of Bella Vista lakes. However, we have recently captured a flathead on Lake Ann, most likely released by an angler from Beaver Lake who did not want the fish. Lake Ann is a popular spot for Beaver Lake anglers to stop and clean their catch, which can lead to some live fish being deposited into the lake. According to Arkansas Game and Fish regulations, it is illegal to release any fish into waters other than where it was caught. This regulation not only prevents the spread of fish species into waters in which they don’t belong, but also prevents the spread of fish parasites and other aquatic born pests, like invasive aquatic vegetation. If you have any questions or information about flathead catfish in any Bella Vista lake, please call the Lakes and Parks office, 479-855-5068.

Profile of a Red Fox

Species Profile: Vulpes vulpes – Red Fox

Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes
Common Name(s): Red Fox

Red Fox in the snow

Red fox, photo by NRCN Hal Winters

Identification:
Red foxes get their name from their striking red fur. Red and grey foxes often get mistaken for one another due to the overlap in habitat and patches of red and grey fur in both. Red foxes have white tipped tails, while grey foxes usually have black tipped tails. Grey foxes also tend to be grey and black in overall color. Red foxes are also generally larger in size than grey foxes. Adults average 14-20 in high at the shoulder, 18-35 in long, not including tails, and weigh 5-31 lbs.

 

Range Map of Red Fox

© Carlwev

Range:
Red foxes are widespread across the northern hemisphere, including Eurasia and North America. They originated in Eurasia and migrated to North America in two waves. The first wave was around 400,000 years ago and the second around 10,000 years ago. This has led to controversy as to whether the North American red fox should be classified as a separate species. Red foxes have also been introduced to Australia, where they are considered an ecologically devastating invasive species.

Before 1700 Northwest Arkansas represented the eastern boarder of the coyote’s range. The decline of the red wolf population and agricultural practices which creates more open habitat has allowed the coyote to expand its range to the east coast. As a result, red fox populations have experienced local declines.

Ecology:
Red foxes are highly adaptable and can inhabit forests, wetlands, grasslands, and suburban areas. They are known for being smart and cunning, making them great scavengers. Red foxes are relatively common in urban areas close to wooded areas and fields. This allows them access to natural foods, as well as human waste products and trash.

The lifespan of the red fox ranges from 2-5 years in the wild, but they can live up to 15-20 years in captivity. Mating occurs during the winter, with kits being born in the spring. The average litter size is six kits, but litters can be as large as 13 kits. Red foxes are thought to be largely monogamous. Red foxes are highly social, and may live in large shared family territories, with relatives caring for the dominant female’s kits. After a year or two, young foxes may move away from the family group if there is a good chance of gaining their own territory.

Red Foxes are omnivores with a variable diet. They will scavenge or prey on a variety of animals including small mammals, insects, reptiles, and fish. They will also readily consume various fruits, seeds, tubers, and grasses. Human garbage is also scavenged by red foxes in urban areas.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, foxes can be seen near any of the many wooded areas, especially around dawn and dusk. They can also be seen crossing the golf courses at these times. Bella Vista is a haven for the red fox. Varied habitat offered in neighborhoods, undeveloped wooded property, and power line right of ways offers perfect hunting and scavenging grounds for foxes. Although coyotes are present in our city, they are more wary and stay further away which offers foxes some protection.

Mange appears to be a chronic problem with the local fox population. Mange is the result of mites that can be transferred through social interactions and is often transferred to kits in the den. Foxes can carry most diseases common in dogs such as distemper, rabies, and parvo. Residents should limit pet interactions with foxes by feeding pets indoors.

Northern Watersnake on the ground

Species Profile: Nerodia Sipedon – Northern Watersnake

Scientific Name: Nerodia Sipedon
Common Name: Northern watersnake, common watersnake

Northern Watersnake on the ground

Northern Watersnake ©Suzanne Collins

 

Comparison of Copperhead and Northern Watersnake ©Suzanne Collins

Comparison of Copperhead and Northern Watersnake ©Suzanne Collins

 

Cottonmouth on a plant

Cottonmouth ©Suzanne Collins

 

Identification:

Northern watersnakes are common nonvenomous snakes. They can frequently be seen basking on rocks near the water’s edge. Northern watersnakes are typically tan to light brown in color with dark brown to black banded spots; however, they can also appear nearly black. The typical coloration along with the banding pattern often leads to these snakes being confused for copperheads. Despite their similarity, the two snakes can be distinguished easily. Whereas the copperhead has hourglass shaped bands on its body, the watersnake has a reverse hourglass shape, with the large part of the mark over the center of the back. The copperhead head and snout are angular with sharp features, while the watersnake head and snout are round and smooth. Copperheads also have distinct slitted pupils, while watersnakes have large round pupils. The coloration also differs in vibrancy. The copperhead is always a metallic copper color, while the watersnake is much more drab and browner in color. Finally, these two snakes live in different habitats, with copperheads generally living in the forest under logs, while watersnakes live in burrows on the banks of waterbodies. Unfortunately, because of where the watersnake lives and because some individuals have an almost black color, they are often mistaken for yet another venomous snake, the cottonmouth. The cottonmouth, like the copperhead, has an angular head with sharp features, as well as slitted pupils. The cottonmouth is generally a much larger bodied snake than the watersnake and has different color patterns, but often is so dark in color that patterns are hard to distinguish. Northern watersnakes can grow to 4-5ft long with females weighing 5-14oz.; males are somewhat smaller.

Northern Watersnake Range Map

Northern Watersnake Range Map

Range:

The Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) can be found throughout much of eastern and central North America. It was also introduced to California and is now considered an invasive species due to possible competition with the native giant garter snake.

Ecology:

Active during the day and night, the northern watersnake spends much of its time basking near the edges of waterbodies. They can live near any freshwater source that supports enough food. They use their keen smell and sight to hunt for fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, small birds, and small mammals. Natural predators of northern watersnakes include foxes, coyotes, racoons, opossums, birds of prey, and snapping turtles. Juveniles are typically more in danger of predation then are adults.

Northern watersnakes are ovoviviparous (live bearing) and mate from April to June. The females carry the eggs inside their bodies and can birth up to thirty young at a time, averaging eight. Young are typically 7-9 inches upon birth. Young are born between August and October and there is no parental care. It takes northern watersnakes on average four years to reach sexual maturity.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, northern watersnakes can be observed near our lakes and golf course ponds, as well as around the various streams and creeks. They are easily spooked and will dive into and under the water at the slightest provocation. Although generally perceptive, a basking watersnake is relatively easy to sneak up on as they bask in the sun along the water’s edge. People and snakes are often startled because the snake doesn’t move until the person gets close. Remember, the snake would rather get away then try to fight. Although they are nonvenomous, if cornered, they will strike furiously to intimidate their attacker long enough to escape. While doing so, they often emit a foul-smelling musk. Many people fear snakes; however, they provide a valuable ecosystem service in the form of pest control, while also being generally harmless to humans. If you have any questions about snakes or need a snake identified, don’t hesitate to call the Lakes and Parks Department for assistance (479-855-5060).

Fox Squirrel on a fence

Species Profile: Sciurus niger – Fox Squirrel

Scientific Name: Sciurus niger

Common Name(s): Fox Squirrel, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Stump-eared Squirrel, Bryant’s Fox Squirrel

Typical fox squirrel © Markus Krötzsch

Typical fox squirrel © Markus Krötzsch

 

Completely black fox squirrel © Chris Fuller

Completely black fox squirrel © Chris Fuller

Identification:

The fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel native to North America. It reaches lengths of 8 to 13 in, weighing 1 to 2 lbs. Both males and females look alike, exhibiting no sexual dimorphism in size or coloration. The fox squirrel’s fur is greyish light brown with a brownish orange on the underside. In some populations, fox squirrels have dark brown markings or various patterns of black fur. Fox squirrels have long claws and are natural climbers. They can be differentiated from the eastern grey squirrel by both size and color, with grey squirrels having grey fur with a white underside and being about half the size of fox squirrels.

Range map of United States

Range:

Sciurus niger is native to eastern and central North America and introduced to western regions of Canada and USA. For example, while there are naturally occurring populations in Colorado, many populations are because of introductions in the early 1900’s. Fox squirrel populations expanded naturally across Colorado by riparian corridors, invading urban areas.

Ecology:

Fox squirrels can occupy any sizable forested area. They tend to be the dominant squirrel species in smaller patches of wooded land and open park like habitats. Larger populations can be found in areas where nuts can be foraged from oaks (Quercus), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and pines (Pinus). While their diet consists mostly of nuts and other available fruits, they will also readily consume insects, bulbs, tubers, roots, and tree buds. They have strong jaws that allow them to crack nuts and other hard forage.

Fox squirrels can mate anytime during the year, but estrus occurs in December and again in June. During this time males compete for mating rights. Females often mate with several males. Females become mature at 10 months and can have their first litter at one year. Gestation is about 45 days, and two litters can be had per year. Litter size is generally 2-3 offspring. Reproduction rates can be correlated with food and resource availability. Development in fox squirrels is slower compared to other rodents. Fox squirrels are born blind, with their eyes opening around 5-6 weeks old. Offspring are weaned around 8-10 weeks. Fox squirrels can live up to 18 years in captivity, but in the wild more commonly live to 8-12 years.

Very few natural predators can catch an adult fox squirrel. Most predation is opportunistic by large predators, such as bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and large birds of prey. Juveniles can be easily captured however, and face additional predation from raccoons, opossums, and snakes.

Special Notes:

Here, in Bella Vista fox squirrels can be found anywhere. A notable population lives on the Berksdale golf course. This population is unique because it has a high proportion of individuals with dark fur patterns. The photo above was taken of one of the completely black individuals. The abundance of nut producing trees here, such as oak, hickory, and walnut, make Bella Vista a prime fox squirrel habitat.

Osprey on a branch

Species Profile: Pandion haliaetus – Osprey

Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus

Common Name(s): Osprey, Fish Eagle, Sea hawk, River Hawk, Fish Hawk

 

Osprey on a branch

Wikipedia.org/Yathin S Krishnappa

 

Identification:

The osprey Pandion haliaetus is a large predatory bird. Males and females are similar in appearance, although males can be distinguished by narrower wings and body compared to the female. The underside is white, and the back and wings are a dark brown. Their head is white with dark brown surrounding their golden eyes extending to the back of the neck. They have a black, sharply downturned beak and white feet with sharp, black talons. They have distinctive wings with four long feathers; the fifth feather is shorter. Their tail is short and has both brown and white coloration. Adults average 20-26 inches long, weight 2-4.6 lbs., and have a wingspan of 50-71 inches.

Range of Osprey Map Chart

Range:

The osprey is found almost worldwide. It is very adaptable, able to live almost anywhere it can find fish to feed on and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Florida and the Gulf Coast tends to have permanent residents who do not migrate.

Ecology:

Osprey can inhabit both freshwater and saltwater environments. They are very adaptable and are often seen on coastlines, or by large rivers and lakes. Virtually anywhere that has fish can by inhabited by osprey. The osprey has many adaptations that help it capture fish including reversible toes, sharp spines underneath the toes, a membrane to close the nose when diving, backwards scales on the talons that hold prey when flying, and dense, oily feathers that will not hold water when they dive. Fish ranging from 1.8 oz to 4.4 lbs. can be captured by osprey. Although their diet is 99% fish, they also consume rodents, rabbits, amphibians, other birds, and small reptiles.  

During breeding, osprey build large mounds of sticks, brush, or vegetation that they use as nests. They are monogamous, breeding with the same partner for life. Both parents help raise young. Females lay 2-4 white eggs with dark brown spots. Eggs hatch within a month. Eggs weigh around 2.3 oz and depend on the large nest, and their mother, for warmth. Young will get their flight feathers in 8-10 weeks after hatching.

Osprey commonly live 7-10 years, and rarely survive for 20-25 years. Great horned owls, golden eagles, and bald eagle are all predators of ospreys. These predators’ prey on eggs as well as adults. Eagles most often harass ospreys and take freshly killed prey from them. Raccoons are another predator, killing young or eggs if they can reach their nest.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, osprey can most likely be spotted flying near the lakes or Little Sugar Creek in search of prey. In Arkansas, they are not permanent or breeding residents, so breeding behavior cannot be observed.

Species Profile: Aix sponsa – Wood Duck

Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
Common Name(s): Wood Duck, Carolina Duck

Wood ducks

Nextdoornature.org

Identification:
The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a medium sized, unmistakable North American duck most known for its beautiful colors. Males have the most color in fall through early summer, with iridescent feathers of multiple colors. Their heads are green at the top, then transition to purple, pink, and blue. They have multiple white outlines on their head, neck, and body, distinctive red eyes, and a red, white, and black bill. Females are more grayish brown in color, with their sides a lighter shade than their backs. They have some bluish feathers on their wings and white that surrounds their eyes. Females’ bills are gray. Both males and females have long feathers that hang off the back of their heads. Out of breeding season, males resemble females but often keep their red bills and have light blue feathers on their wings. Adults average 19-21inches with a wingspan of 26-29inches.

Wood duck species range map

Range:
The wood duck is a North American migratory species, moving south for the winter in northern parts of its range. They remain as year-round residents in southern parts of their range.

Ecology:
Wood ducks prefer water bodies that have forest habitat nearby. They can be found near lakes, marshes, rivers, and streams. Wood ducks like to perch in trees to avoid predators, especially during breeding season when they are nesting. The male call sounds like a squeaky whistle, while the female call is louder and longer.

Juvenile wood ducks consume aquatic bugs and small fish. Adults feed mainly on plants, seeds, berries, and nuts, although they will eat insects as well.

During breeding season, males attract females with their call and iridescent colors. Once paired, they build nests in tree cavities. Sycamore trees overhanging water are common nesting choices. Where nesting sites are scarce, they will nest up to one mile away from water. Hatchlings routinely jump from heights of up to 50 feet landing on leaf pack unhurt. Parents then lead them to the nearest water body. Nest boxes are readily used. Females line their nest with soft feathers or other materials and then lay eggs. If a female cannot find a nest of her own, she will lay her eggs in another female’s nest. This can decrease survivability because one female is unable to adequately incubate a large number of eggs. Females normally lay 7-15 eggs and incubate them for around one month. Egg dumping in nest boxes with no intention of incubation is also a fairly common practice.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has helped wood duck populations recover from threateningly low numbers. This Act regulates the hunting of migratory birds and prevents them from being sold. Before this Act, many wood ducks were killed for their feathers to make women’s hats. Widespread harvest of mature timber more than 100 years ago also limited nesting sites. Eastern forest lands have sense recovered, and so has the wood duck.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, wood ducks can potentially be seen on any lake, stream, or pond. They tend to be secretive and enjoy the water line at the back of coves. With plenty of water and surrounding forested habitat, Bella Vista is a great place for wood ducks.

Species Profile: Didelphis virginiana – Virginia Opossum

Scientific Name:              Didelphis virginiana

Common Name(s):          Virginia Opossum, Possum

Identification:

Virginia opossums Didelphis virginiana are the only marsupial (mammals with a pouch) in North America. They are small to medium in size and have mixed black, gray, and white fur. Their faces are white with a long pink nose, black eyes, and black ears. They have opposable thumbs on their hind legs which help them climb trees. The hind legs also do not have claws. Their tail is prehensile, meaning it can grab and hold things, and is used mainly for gripping limbs when in trees. A common misconception about opossums is that they hang from their tails to sleep. Although they can hang from their tails for a short time, it is not strong enough to hold them for that long. Males often weigh more and have larger teeth than females, while females have a marsupium (pouch) to hold babies. Opossums range from 10-40 inches in length, without tail, and weigh up to 8 lbs. for females and up to 14 lbs. for males.

 

Fun Facts:

These animals display characteristics that are very unusual for North American mammals.  Among them are…

  1. Opossums are the only North American marsupial (development of young in a pouch)
  2. They have 13 nipples in a circular arrangement with one in the middle.
  3. Their brain is 1/5 the size of a raccoon of similar size.
  4. They have 50 teeth. More than any other North American Mammal
  5. They have a prehensile (grasping) tail.
  6. They have opposable thumbs on the hind legs
  7. No claws on hind legs
  8. Yes, they do play possum
  9. From an evolutionary standpoint they are not “living fossils” as they evolved recently (20 million years ago)
  10. Extreme example of Bergman’s Rule which states that individuals within a species are larger in colder climates to conserve heat.  Northern opossums are up to 20 times larger than their southern cousins.
Black Bullhead fish in the water

Species Profile: Ameiurus (Genus) – Bullhead Catfishes

Scientific Name:              Ameiurus (Genus); Ameiurus melas, Ameiurus natalis

Common Name(s):          Bullhead Catfish; Black Bullhead, Yellow Bullhead
Creek Cats, Mud Cats, Yellow Cats, Black Cats, Polliwogs

Identification:

There are seven species of bullhead catfishes, all native to North America and all within the genus Ameiurus. There are two common species of bullheads in Northwest Arkansas, the black and yellow.  The black bullhead Ameiurus melas has dark whiskers, called barbles, under its chin that are either gray or black and which differ from the white ones of the yellow bullhead Ameiurus natalis. Both black and yellow bullheads are solid brownish-yellow fading to white on their bellies. All bullhead catfishes have a quadrate, unforked tail fin which distinguishes them from other catfish species. They also have spines in the dorsal fin on their backs and both pectoral fins on their sides. Like all catfish, the bullheads have an adipose fin, a small fleshy projection on their back just in front of their tail fin. Bullheads are commonly 12-16 inches and weigh 1-2 lbs.

Range:

The range for Bullheads differs slightly but are consistently found east of Wyoming and Colorado. Black bullheads can be found in parts of southern Canada, south to Texas, and in the central United States.  Yellow bullheads are found from the central to the eastern United States. In Arkansas, black and yellow bullheads are found state-wide in appropriate habitats.

Ecology:

Bullheads are warm water fish, preferring water temperatures around 75-85°F. They are considered “rough fish” as opposed to “game fish” in part because they are seldom sought after and few regulations govern their harvest. The meat is of good quality especially when caught from clean waters and has even been described as having a sweet flavor. Small size is typically the reason more bullheads are not harvested.

Bullheads are generally not stocked intentionally. They tend to overpopulate in small impoundments.  Their feeding activity can create muddy conditions impact water quality. Bullheads are very tolerant of these conditions, but many gamefish are not. There have been accidental stockings by misidentifying them with other catfish species. This has resulted in established populations well outside of their native ranges.

Spawning in Arkansas occurs from May-June when temperatures range from 66-75°F. Females primarily make oval shaped nests in shallower water, although occasionally males will help construct nests. Both parents guard the nest until young hatch. Young then school with the parents until they are around 1 inch long when the parents abandon them. Bullheads are thought to be monogamous.

Bullheads are bottom feeders and consume almost anything, including fish, insects, crayfish, and dead organisms. Like other catfish, they rely on their olfactory senses to find food instead of their eyesight, which is performed using their mouth barbles. Yellow bullheads are the pickiest out of the two species.  All bullheads primarily feed at night.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, bullheads are not stocked deliberately in any of the lakes. They are commonly found in golf course ponds due to periodic inundation by Little Sugar Creek which maintains good populations of both species. Populations in our lakes remain low due to predation by game fish, primarily largemouth bass. It is probable that they are found in all our lakes, as they were a native stream fish before the valleys were flooded.

Species Profile: Lontra canadensis – River Otter

Scientific Name: Carya (Genus)
Common Name(s): River Otter, North American River Otter

Identification:
River otters live in and around water. They have long streamlined bodies with a long, tapered tail. Otters have oily brown fur all over their body, including their tail; this can help distinguish them from the beaver with its hairless tail. The fur on their underside is typically a lighter brown or gray. Otters also have long prominent whiskers. Their feet are webbed, and their hands are very dexterous. Otters weigh 10-30 lbs., with males larger than females, and are 24-42 inches in length.

Range:
Otters were natively found throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from coast-to-coast. However, habitat destruction, urbanization, and pollution have extirpated the river otter from some states in the U.S.

Ecology:
River otters inhabit more than just rivers. They can be found in inland freshwaters, such as rivers and lakes, and in marine and brackish waters. They prefer waters with adjacent woodlands but can survive in any location with a steady supply of food and access to a waterbody. Otters live in dens built in a natural hollow, an undercut riverbank, hollow log, or in the burrows of other animals. The entrance may be under water or above ground. The den is typically lined with leaves, grass, bark, and moss.

Otters are typically ambush predators, lunging and grabbing prey, rather than pursuing prey. They are well adapted for hunting in water: they can stay submerged for up to 4 minutes, swim at a speed of nearly 7 mph, and dive to a depth of 65 ft. While their primary diet is fish and crayfish, they will opportunistically eat anything, including fruit, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, and small mammals. They will avoid carrion.

Reproduction is viable at two years of age, and males usually mate with multiple females. Breeding occurs from December to April. While gestation lasts two months, otters delay implantation for up to eight months, meaning that birth usually occurs 10-12 months after copulation. Litters usually consist of one to three pups, rarely up to five. Pups are born fully furred but are blind and toothless. They open their eyes at four weeks, consume solid food at nine weeks, wean at 12 weeks, and are provided food up until 38 weeks. While they can sustain themselves at an earlier age, pups usually stay with their family until the following spring and leave before a new litter is born.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, otters are uncommon. Little Sugar Creek provides a corridor for otters to get to Bella Vista and potentially all our lakes. In January 2020, an otter was seen eating fish in the Avalon heated dock multiple times. The Lakes and Parks staff may take measures to relocate the otter to prevent interference with the fish hatchery program. Although they are fascinating to watch, otters can be voracious and wreak havoc on a contained system like in a fish hatchery.

A curious otter at the Avalon Heated Fishing Dock.
Photo courtesy of Tom Vickery

Featured Image: https://tinyurl.com/qr2vock © Charles Kennard