Otters are invading Florida backyards, it’s a good thing

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Alligators and manatees seem to get all the attention when it comes to Florida wildlife.

But river otters can be found in every region of the state except the Keys. And their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem.

Although the river otter is native to Florida, chances are you’ve never seen one outside of a zoo. Just be careful: they’re cute, but they also turn nasty.

“They are not always seen, but they are relatively common in freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes throughout the state,” Lisa Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in an email. . “They use burrows dug along the water banks,” Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Lisa Thompson said in an email.

Residents of the Bradenton area have seen the creatures feasting on fish in ponds in their backyards. And they are taking them away from their pets. Some locals have even seen them run down the drains.

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“I first saw them many years ago at GT Bray when I was walking in the park. I saw two of them in a creek and it made me smile because they were so cute and looked so sweet,” said Manatee County native Tracy Prandine.

Years later, on January 18, Prandine would see the small carnivorous marine mammals again, this time on her back porch, while FaceTimed with her mother. When she saw two otters swimming in the lake behind her condo, she quickly hung up and took her camera, getting close enough to take a few photos, but not too close to her, she said.

“I was surprised that they didn’t get away so quickly,” Prandine said. “I kept getting closer and closer, and then if I got too close, I could hear him hiss at me, and I was like, okay, I’m going to back off.”

He compared seeing an otter to seeing an elephant or giraffe.

“It just makes you smile, and they’re just animals that you don’t see very often in their natural environment, usually in a zoo,” he said. “Being able to watch them swim and eat fish while I’m on my porch is a bonus and quite special.”

For local residents who have encountered river otters, their stories are either amazing or downright horrifying.

Samantha Thornton, who lived in Massachusetts before moving to Bradenton 10 years ago, said she’s still amazed by the wildlife she sees in her backyard, from ospreys to otters.

Thornton is sure that otters live under his deck and often sees them in his yard feeding on fish and other animals.

“I have had a huge iguana on my terrace,” he said. “The wildlife coming out of this lake is insane.” “We have giant snapping turtles, soft-shelled turtles, and red-eared slider turtles, all kinds of cool stuff.”

While otters appear to be gentle, graceful, and friendly with each other, they also have a dark side. If you come across one while walking your dog, you should probably turn around.

“I generally try to keep my pets away from otters,” Thornton said. “Sometimes I let my dogs out without knowing that there was already an otter in my yard, and the otter gets really mean.”

If you search “Florida Otters” on Youtube, you will see how energetic they can be. The videos show otters arguing with an alligator, an alligator, and even a coyote.

Last May, a Seminole County resident captured video of an otter chasing a coyote. Some viewers thought the otter was trying to defend its offspring from the coyote.

“River otters are not inherently aggressive animals,” Thompson said. “Like other wildlife, river otters can become defensive during mating season, when they are giving birth, or when they feel threatened.”

There have been countless stories of otters attacking dogs in nearby St. Petersburg and Lakeland.

Thompson’s advice on how to keep your pet safe is to treat otters like you would any other wild animal, regardless of appearance.

“While river otters are social with one another, people should not allow their pets to interact with otters or other wildlife,” Thompson said. “To minimize risk to pets, do not allow pets to roam freely or approach wildlife, including otters.”

For Thornton, having otters living under his deck is actually a good thing and shouldn’t be seen as a pest. According to the National Foundation for Environmental Education, their presence is a sign that the ecosystem is healthy. If you live near a lake, pond, or river that does not have otters, there is a chance that the water is contaminated.

“River otters play an important role in Florida’s freshwater ecosystems as predators within their habitats. River otters contribute to a healthy prey population by feeding on weaker, diseased prey that is easier to catch,” Thompson said. “The fish are popular prey not only among otters, but also turtles, wading birds, eagles, osprey, raccoons, and snakes.”

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