03.19.08–Athabascan Word of the Week

river_otter_tracks_bw river_otter otter_holding_fish

Otter = mizreya` = Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan dialect

Otter = ageya = Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan dialect

River Otter = Lutra canadensis

Order: Carnivora (flesh-eating mammals).

Family: Mustelidae (weasels and skunks).

Range and Habitat: widespread south of the Brooks Range; in or near lakes, streams and coastal ocean areas.

Size and weight: 4 feet; 20 pounds.

Diet: fish, turtles, frogs, crayfish, snakes, birds and their eggs.

Sounds: chirps, chatters, chuckles, and grunts.

On a sub-zero day in January, I had the pleasure of observing a river otter near the Salmonberry River. Even out of water it retained its fluid gracefulness. Its neck arched in the lifting movements that are uniquely its own. There were black strips on the ice where the snow had been scraped away as the otter slid on its belly, revealing an innate sense of playful fun. River otters will play both in and out of the water, alone or in the company of others. I once watched a group of otters curling around each other to form a large roly-poly ball of wriggling brown fur. On another occasion, I counted seven otters slithering and cavorting over one another in the ocean, looking like one multi-tailed, multi-headed sea monster. An otter seen in salt water is not necessarily a sea otter. River otters are common in many coastal areas and they often enter the ocean in search of food. River otters catch prey with their mouth and discard the fins after eating. They clean off their face with grass or snow. Otters usually hunt by diving and swimming after fish, but are not always successful. Studies show that they catch about 20% of what they dive after. They have a sense of touch which makes it easier to track underwater prey. Their whiskers help detect moving prey. The otter fishes’ under the ice and breaths through air holes or air pockets under the ice. River otters teeth are strong enough to crush the shells of crabs and other such animals. It was a diet of fish, water insects, amphibians, birds, and small mammals. Otters eat meat only. They eat animals with shells, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, but mostly they eat lots and lots of fish.

The style of swimming is the key to identification–a sea otter swims on its back, propelling itself with its flipperlike back feet; a river otter swims face down, with only its head and part of its back out of the water. Sea otters are sea mammals in every sense–they eat, play, groom, and sleep in the ocean; they do go ashore at times, to escape violent storm conditions for example, but they never venture more than a few feet from the water, leaving few recognizable marks in their passage. The river otter is primarily a land animal. The webs of the rear feet may leave distinctive marks in soft mud, damp sand, or snow. The track imprints are roundish, with five front and hind toes usually showing clearly. River otters normally leave groups of four tracks, 13 to 30 inches apart, but can leap to 8 feet and slide for great distances on their underbellies.

Cited From: Animal Tracks of Alaska. Written by Chris Stall. Published by The Mountaineers, 1993.



One response to “03.19.08–Athabascan Word of the Week

  1. Pingback: 03.19.08–Athabascan Word of the Week : Petsecure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s