Otter Cam Reveals More Than Just Otters

By Allison Holdhusen, Biological Science Technician with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

In April, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area biologists headed down to Fort Snelling State Park to set up a remote camera on known river otter habitat. We wanted to see if otters were still using the site and what other wildlife shared their habitat. River otter are a sign of a healthy river ecosystem. By better understanding the otter's behaviors, interactions and choice of prey and habitats, we can better understand the Mississippi River's ecological community as a whole.

The Mississippi River Fund financially supports the park's otter research because both organizations are interested in river otters due to their status as top predators in the aquatic ecosystem and indicators of a healthy river. They had disappeared from southern Minnesota for more than a century due to pollution and trapping, and have recently returned to the Twin Cities. Now that these elusive creatures are making a comeback we are excited to learn more about their populations and habitat use so we can better understand how we can help them.

The camouflaged camera, triggered by motion sensors, is an ideal tool for observing elusive otter and other nocturnal wildlife activity. We checked the camera weekly and captured photos and videos for 42 nights.

The results were exciting! Spotting a river otter in the Twin Cities is pretty rare, but with otter tracks and scat nearby, we hoped they’d return to the same spot. And they did! We caught a river otter on camera in the first week.

The camera also got nice shots of great blue heron, raccoon, mink, coyote, muskrat, and waterfowl. There were lots of photos of raccoons, which are very abundant in the Twin Cities, while top predators like coyote and river otter were only seen once or twice. Sometimes something as small as a spider would trigger the camera.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area biologists plan to further study coyote and river otter in the coming months using remote cameras.