Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 43(1/2):52–55; 2011


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Recently, the Nearctic river otter (Lontra canadensis) has been re-colonizing portions of eastern North Dakota (Serfass et al. 2010). The landscape in eastern North Dakota is dominated by agricultural fields and pastures, habitats which have received little research attention related to otter habitat use. During 2008, we searched shorelines to detect otter latrines, which is a common method for determining otter presence (Clark et al. 1987, Shackelford and Whitaker 1997, Melquist et al. 2003). Generally, latrines are locations along bodies of water where otters deposit scats, urine, and glandular secretions for olfactory communication, and groom, wrestle, and play, which may mat vegetation (Melquist and Hornocker 1983, Carpenter 2001, Mills 2004, Ben-David et al. 2005, Stevens and Serfass 2008). In the northeastern United States, inland riverine system studies have shown latrines to be associated with prominent features along river shorelines (e.g., conifer trees, rock formations, and American beaver [Castor canadensis] activity) and forest cover (Newman and Griffen 1994, Swimley et al. 1998); however, otters will establish latrines in coastal and other areas where tree cover is limited (Mowbray et al. 1976). Further, latrines sometimes are associated with (on or near) overland trails (―crossovers‖; Gorman et al. 2006a), which are used as connections between adjacent aquatic systems or between meanders within a riverine system. In 2008 and 2009, we surveyed river shorelines in northeastern North Dakota to determine the re-establishing otter population’s distribution and monitor unique otter behavior. We report the occurrence of otters establishing and repeatedly using a crossover and latrine area in an agricultural field.