Sunday, March 4, 2007

Thought You Otter Know

Being that it is Sunday, I essentially had the day off. I went to church this morning at St. Cecilia Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Omaha. It is an absolutely beautiful cathedral, and I was very impressed with every aspect of the Mass. Their choir is phenominal, and the whole building is perfect for music. Sounds rings and echoes through there, but not too much. Certainly seems appropriate that a church dedicated to St. Cecilia, the patroness of music, is so suited for it! The picture at left I took after mass from the choir loft. I was exploring and found the turret stairs to go up there. Most impressive!

So, back to the zoo: again, since it was a day off, I was free to wander about the zoo. I spent most of today in the Lied Jungle, the large indoor rainforest. And I spent a significant portion of that time watching the otters, who were particularly active today. So, I figured I talk about otters a little bit today!

Otters are one of my favorite species of creature for many reasons. They are active, fun to watch, and -- of course -- adorable. However, working with them can be another ball of fur. They are notorious biters and are incredibley strong for their size. These guys can easily break a clam open with their jaws, so they certainly deserve a healthy measure of respect!

At the HDZ, there are three species of otters on display, all from different continents. That is yet another amazing thing about otters; there are species spread out all over the world, but their basic anatomy and behavior is very similar throughout. The first picture shows the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis). They have an outdoor exhibit with access to an underwater den area. There are pumps in their tank that keep part of it from freezing over so that they have access to the outside. On warm days, they like to come out and scamper about on the ice. This pair is highly approachable and interested in people. When I came over to their enclosure to see if they were out, they immediately scampered over. As their name implies, these otters are native to the waterways and wetlands of North America. They were hunted very agressively for their pelts and, though they are not on the national endangered species list, they are on the endagered or threatened list for many states.

Next we go to Africa and the Spotted-necked Otter (Lutra maculicollis). This pair can be see in the Lied Jungle. These creatures can get over 1 meter in length and can easily weigh more than 12 pounds. They get their name from the spots on the ventral ("bottom") side of their neck. I couldn't get a good picture of the neck of these guys. By nature, otters are always moving around, and it is very hard to get good pictures of them, I found! This species is considered Threatened in their native habitat.

And last but not least, we have the Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinereus). These otters are native to south-east Asia and are the smallest species of otter in the world. Their exhibit is located just inside the jungle. They are also considered Threatened in their native habitat.
These otters were very active today, and I got some intesting video of them. The first video shows them fishing. You'll see the first otter as he cleans a fish he has already caught. Otters are fairly fastidious eaters, and like to clean their food well before they eat it! The other otter tries to get a morsel of the fish but, seeing that he won't let her have any, she decides to go out and catch some on her own. There is a school of fish in the exhibit (I don't know what species) and the otters were going after them today! It is somewhat hard to see due to the glare, but you can see the otter as she eventually swims into the school and grabs a fish. She then goes back up to the shore where the other otters was before and starts cleaning her catch in that small basin area. Very neat!

The second video is a much shorter one showing the otters swimming past the underwater observation windows. Due to the size of the windows and how fast they move you can't see them for long, but there is enough to appreciate what swift and agile swimmers they are.

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