A Very Brief Guide

to Otter Scats

Nothing makes you more like a snail than looking for otter scats, or spraints, as they are also called. Of course, you shouldn't dig, like the photogenic snail above, into a scat that is fresh and moist. Wait for the rain to wash and the sun to bake the scat into a collection of the bones, shell bits, and fish scales from the otter's meal.

By studying scats you can get a good idea of what the otter has been eating, although it bears remembering a few things. Otters often eat the whole fish hence if there is a crayfish or a beetle in the fish's gut, the otter will wind up half digesting it.

There is no typical otter scat but there are scats that, in my experience, only otters leave. They are loose, gooey, black and suggest that the animal leaving them did a little rumba in the process.

Otters can scat anywhere, even under water, but they typically scat in special places, especially logs,

boards and pipes,


clumps of moss

Do you notice that snail again, off to the side? Happy is the otter, I suppose, who can combine typical places to scat, like a log in the middle of a patch of moss:

and they often scat again and again in the same places creating latrines that you can often notice from a distance. They are typically on sloping shores of ponds and rivers,

dirt and grassy areas above rocks along the shore, and along trails to and from ponds -- that is, otter trails not necessarily human trails. Otters often like to go up and over ridges to get from one feeding area to another. They don't necessarily take the low or easy way.

The best conditions for seeing otter scats are on a sunny day two or three days after a snowfall. Otters have had a chance to get out from under the iced over pond they've taken refuge him and relieve themselves.

Or they have had time to visit their latrines along the river bank:

I find the greatest variety of scats in the late winter and spring. The color can vary from almost white

to almost clear

to muddy gray

reddish brown,

to almost bloody

Finally, close-ups with a digital camera provide a great tool for revealing insects that enjoy fresh scats,

and the undigested remains of the fish the otter has been eating

The scats themselves tell a story and their placement and the frequency with which you find them at latrines enlivens a landscape and reveals the otters' life even without your seeing them.

Bob Arnebeck

mailto: arnebeck@localnet.com

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