MISSOULA — Winter in Montana is considered the best time to see river otters. The reason for this is that during the winter months otters are primarily diurnal -- meaning they are more active in the daytime. So, the best times to see them right now would be early morning and evening. Once spring comes otters will go back to being primarily nocturnal all the way through fall.
River otters belong to the weasel family, just like the mink, marten, and badger.
Despite their small size otters have large home ranges with territories reaching up to 100 square miles. But during the winter months they usually only occupy 9% of their home range.
They are uniquely suited for aquatic life. As they dive, they close their ears and nostrils to keep water out and can hold their breath for up to four minutes.
An interesting adaptation to this aquatic life is that their lungs are triangular and the right lung is about 19% larger than the left and has four lobes, compared with two for the left.
Although you’ll probably see them in the water the majority of the time otters can travel many miles on land usually by bounding.
Although much more research needs to be done it is hypothesized that otters use latrine sites to communicate. They could be communicating territory borders, social status, health or reproductive status.
So, go out and look for them throughout Montana’s rivers, streams, and lakes.