An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Otter Brown-Out

9-28-17 otter brown-out 049A5342North American River Otters are not territorial in the classic sense of marking territorial boundaries. Instead they mark prime resource areas within their territory. Often, the site is near their den or a productive food area. They visit these sites repeatedly to urinate, defecate and roll around on the ground – so much so that the surrounding vegetation is often dead or dying and is referred to as a “brown-out.”

If an otter has been eating fish, its scat is often just a pile of fish scales. However, if it has been dining on crayfish and it is fresh, the scat can be tubular. No matter what form otter scat takes, a tell-tale sign (in addition to fish scales and/or crayfish exoskeletons) is the presence of clear, white or yellow mucus (scat-jellies). It is not always deposited, but occasionally you do find it. The origin of this mucus is not known – most likely it’s from the otter’s intestinal tract or its anal glands. Research shows that the presence of mucous deposits in some otter species indicates reduced prey availability or reproductive state.  (Photo: Tubular otter scat is circled in red. Mucus is on right side of photo. Thanks to David Putnam and Natalie Starr for yesterday’s and today’s photo op.)

Reasons why Mystery Photo was not

       Black Bear: Scat consists primarily of crayfish remains.

Beaver: Beavers defecate only in water, and individual pellets consist of tiny woody fragments resembling sawdust.

       Raccoon: Raccoons have latrines where multiple scat is deposited, similar to otters. However, only otters deposit mucus.

7 responses

  1. Craig Williamson

    Neat to know what has been going on across our lake in PA where we see an area with a brownout like this. Sometimes the scat is on rocks, and sometimes there are large numbers of butterflies that feed on it (like the Red-Spotted Purple and White Admiral). Thanks Mary for another informative post!

    October 6, 2017 at 9:24 am

  2. harriette griffin

    Lovely, Mary. I revel in your interest in scat and mucus! You are awesome.

    October 6, 2017 at 9:17 pm

  3. JAMES LUDWIG

    Thank You for almost daily wonders!

    October 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm

  4. Ferranto Stracqualursi

    🖕

    On Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 8:13 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “North American River Otters are not territorial in > the classic sense of marking territorial boundaries. Instead they mark > prime resource areas within their territory. Often, the site is near their > den or a productive food area. They visit these sites repe” >

    October 10, 2017 at 8:20 am

  5. David Fedor-Cunningham

    In a muddy area next to the Hubbardton River I found a small depression that had been dug which was full of urine, might this have been an otter or other member of the weasel family?

    October 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    • I honestly don’t know. The only animal I’m familiar with that does what you describe is a moose (wallow)!

      October 12, 2017 at 9:32 am

      • David Fedor-Cunningham

        Thank you Mary, if anybody would know it would be you.

        October 12, 2017 at 9:38 am

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