(Pittsburgh) (2018)---The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s North American river otter pups make their first public appearance since their birth in January.
Four otter pups were born to 8-year-old mom Annie and 17-year-old dad Country. Four litters have been born here. Their first wellness exam will also determine their gender.
The young otters are born blind, toothless, and totally dependent on their mom. They stay with their mother inside their den for the first several weeks as they begin to grow. Keepers say mom Annie is very watchful and protective of her little brood. At about a month of age, the pups’ eyes open and they are able to move around. They begin eating solid foods at two months old but will continue nursing up to four months of age.
As they grow and move about under the watchful eye of their mom, they begin to venture outside the den. Their first milestone is learning to swim. Though otters take to water quickly, at first they need a little nudge from their mom. She begins the lesson by grabbing each pup by the scruff of the neck and taking them down to the water. She gently drops each pup in and demonstrates how to move around. The pups are fast learners and before long are swimming on their own. Otters are built for swimming with a streamlined muscular body and webbed feet that can propel them through the water as fast as eight miles per hour.
Otters are very energetic and have a high metabolism. They are constantly moving and playing with each other and are very intelligent and curious as well. River otters communicate by using a variety of vocalizations from whistles to chirps and growls. Otters can be solitary or live in pairs. In the wild, at about seven to eight months of age, young otters leave the family to start their own family.
The presence of river otters in an environment is an indicator of a healthy river ecosystem. Rivers are affected by water pollution and loss of habitat. While North American river otters are not listed as endangered, they are a protected species in Pennsylvania. In the 1900’s due to excessive trapping for their valuable fur, river otters in Pennsylvania were almost extinct. But through a program spear-headed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, otters were introduced back into the area.