River Otters Are Built To Swim

River otters are so much fun to watch. It’s almost like they are putting on an acrobatic show in the water!

Photo via Shutterstock

We don’t see river otters too much because they like to stay away from areas with lots of people, but a few visitors were treated to a show recently at Isle a la Cache Preserve. Lucky onlookers saw two river otters playing together in the lagoon. In their honor, let’s dive into river otters!


These otters have river in their name, so you know they spend a lot of time in water. They live along rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries (water that is a mix of salt and freshwater), marshes and coastal bogs. Not just any water will do. They want their water bordered by forests and wetlands.


Like beavers and muskrats, river otters have adapted to the water in a few amazing ways.

Here’s a closer look:

  • Record breath holders: When you dive underwater, you learn pretty fast you’d better hold your breath. What’s your record time? Otters can spend eight minutes underwater without coming up for air.

  • Built-in goggles: Otters don’t need goggles like we do to see underwater. They have an extra see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane that sure comes in handy when hunting fish and macroinvertebrates like crayfish.

  • No need for ear plugs: Have you ever jumped into a pool only to have water go up your nose? River otters don’t ever have to worry about that. Their noses and ears automatically close so water can’t get in.

  • Made to paddle: River otters have webbed back feet that are very strong and act like flippers. Paired with their long, muscular bodies flexing up and down and their very powerful tails that help push them forward, they can swim as fast as 8 miles per hour. Plus, they can easily dive to 36 feet deep. That’s the length of a yellow school bus! Some believe they can go even deeper, up to 60 feet.


River otters are an indicator species, meaning they tell us how the environment is doing. They don’t thrive in polluted waters, so if you see a river otter out and about, it shows the river is healthy. This says good things about the water in Will County. So go out to the rivers and lakes around Will County and keep your eyes peeled for these interesting, water-frolicking animals!