Defecating River Otter “Made My Day” Says Young Woman
Merritt Island NWR, FL—Friday, February 10, 2012: a day that will live in infamy. Well, at least to one young woman. It was on that day that Lauren A. Smith, age 24, saw her first river otter (Lontra canadensis) in the wild, along Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. “I was so excited, I’d only seen them in zoos before!” she gushed.
|Resting for the big event|
The river otter in question spent a few minutes poking around the edge of the impoundment before it lifted its tail and defecated. It then scampered off into the bushes, but not before Smith managed to snap off a few pictures. “This is why I always carry my camera with me, you never know when you’re going to see a pooping otter,” she said.
|Lifting the tail|
Smith is a Public Use intern at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, located near Titusville, Florida. Smith, a zoology and English major who graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, has always loved animals. “I’ve known since 5th grade that I wanted to be a zoologist and work with animals,” she said. “The other kids were going around saying, ‘I want to be an astronaut’ or ‘I want to be a ballerina.’ No one even knew what a zoologist was.”
A birder and ornithologist, she jumped at the chance to internship at Merritt Island. “People come from across the country to see the birds here,” she said. “There are fantastic opportunities to see some fantastic birds.” She admits there was an additional consideration in her internship choice— “Spending the winter in Florida was also pretty appealing.”
|Taken from the backseat, before Sam opened the truck door to let me out. That is Sam’s hair and beard in the rear-view mirror, not mine.|
Merritt Island NWR is a pretty appealing place to a number of animals, including river otters. River otters are found in many of the wetlands areas of Florida. Ranging over large expanses, up to 50 miles, river otters unfortunately often end up as road kill. They can be active both during the day and at night, and are often found hunting for food along water edges.
Playful hunters, river otters will catch and eat a variety of critters found in the marshes including minnows, catfish, crayfish, mollusks and frogs. Because they have very high metabolisms, an adaption to help them keep warm in the water, they must consume at least 15% of their body weight every day.
Otters can range in weight from 10 to 31lbs, males typically weighing more than females. They have webbed feet and short, thick, brown fur to help keep them warm while in the water. While swimming, they close both their ears and nostrils.
|Time to head back to the bushes|
“I absolutely love working at the refuge,” says Smith. “Any place where you have the chance to see painted buntings, roseate spoonbills, scrub jays, gopher tortoise, bobcat, and alligators every day can’t be all that bad, right?” she adds with a smile.