SPRING BRANCH, Texas – Some otterly amazing animal news — river otters have been spotted in Spring Branch, something Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials call “fairly rare.”
Several Spring Branch residents have spotted at least one otter in a local waterway.
“Otter sightings that far west are still fairly rare,” said TPWD State Mammal Specialist Dana Karelus. “The Spring Branch area is at about the westward front of their known historic range.”
The self-reporting iNaturalist website shows a river otter sighting in the same area in July 2021.
River otters were heavily hunted for their fur in the 19th and 20th centuries, which caused a major decline in the otter population, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Changes in land use, destruction of wetlands and ecosystems and water quality issues also triggered the decline.
At one point the North American river otter was reduced to less than 75 percent of its range, according to FishWildlife.org.
However, societal efforts to improve water quality in the 1970s along with actions by natural resource agencies to improve habitat have helped bring the otter back from the brink.
“They’ve made such a comeback that they were removed from the Texas list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need,” said Karelus.
If you spot an otter, Karelus suggests adding it to the iNaturalist website. It’s not a foolproof data set but she says it’s helpful for researchers to see where otters’ territory may be expanding.
Karelus said the best chance for an otter sighting is when they are most active — between dawn and dusk.
She said they can sometimes be found in groups but are also sometimes solitary.
Watch out though — otters use their scat to communicate.
“They use what are called latrines, which means what you think. Latrines are important for otter communication, individuals will scent-mark and deposit feces at these sites,” Karelus said.