Happy World Otter Day!

Posted May 29, 2024 by Tara Lay

The Cincinnati Zoo is home to two North American river otters, Sugar and Wesley! Ranging over much of North America, the river otter survives anywhere with access to abundant prey and clean water. With a streamlined body, webbed feet, muscular tail, flexible body, and waterproof fur, otters are designed for swimming in search of fish, crayfish, and other aquatic creatures to eat.

Otters den in a riverbank burrow, under a rock pile, in a thicket, or even in another animal’s home such as a beaver’s lodge. The river otter is famous for its playful antics – mud sliding, water sports and manipulating objects – which increases coordination and sharpens hunting skills.

Fun Facts

  • An otter has 450,000 hairs per square inch.
  • While underwater, an otter’s ears and nostrils close up tight to keep out water.
  • An otter can dive as deep as 60 feet.
  • An otter can hold its breath underwater for eight minutes.
  • Otters have a nictitating membrane that protects the eye and allows the otter to see when swimming underwater. They work like goggles.

Meet the Otters


Personality Traits

Sugar is too smart for her own good! She is very sassy and stubborn. She loves to train when she is in the mood, and she is a quick learner. Sugar knows how to paint, and she knows how to retrieve items from her pool.

How to tell Sugar apart from Wesley: She has a larger nose and her signature swimming move: Sugar’s go-to move is the figure 8.

Favorite Food

Her favorite food would be her hard boiled eggs – she loves eggs!

Favorite Enrichment

Her favorite enrichment to play with include feeder tubes and anything she can tip over! She likes to flip the baby pool when we fill it on habitat for her, and she likes to see how strong she is! She also loves to take substrates from all over and pack them into her nest box.


Personality Traits

Wesley is very chill and relaxed. He loves to train because it means extra snacks. He isn’t always as quick as Sugar when it comes to learning something new, but he tries his best and his effort is priceless. Wesley knows how to paint, and he is learning how to roll over! This is important so keepers and vets are able to do visual checks for his health.

How to tell Wesley apart from Sugar: His signature swimming move: Wesley is most often seen doing a backflip.

Favorite Food

His favorite food is shrimp, smelt or hard boiled eggs.

Favorite Enrichment

His favorite enrichment to play with is feeder tubes, frozen fish popsicles or his firehose hammock because he loves to take naps in it!

Coming Soon: New Otters at the Cincinnati Zoo

Two new otter species are coming to the Zoo! Elephant Trek, opening in 2024, will include an area for Asian small-clawed otters, and Sea Otter Coast will bring sea otters to the Zoo in 2025.

Sea Otter Coast

Sea Otter Coast is the future home to sea otters at the Cincinnati Zoo! This habitat features a massive underwater viewing area where visitors will get close up opportunities to see sea otters play, eat, swim, and engage in enrichment activities.

Fun Facts

  • Sea otters are the heaviest species of otter.
  • The densest fur of any animal on earth!
  • They have no fat on their body.
  • They hide snacks in their armpits.
  • They have retractable claws like cats.
  • The maximum depth they will go is 300 ft.
  • Southern sea otters and the population in Alaska are threatened.
  • A group of otters is called a raft!
  • Their fur keeps them from sinking.

Asian Small Clawed Otter

Elephant Trek is the future home to Asian small clawed otters at the Cincinnati Zoo!

Fun Facts

  • Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest of all 13 otter species
  • Well adapted to life in the water, these social, intelligent animals spend a majority of their time on land.
  • They eat one third of their body weight every single day!
  • They have a vocabulary of at least twelve different vocalizations
  • To get at the meat, they either crush the shell by hand or let heat from the sun open the shells. Their teeth are broad and robust, well suited for crushing shells.
  • They are a vulnerable species due to the increasing threat of habitat destruction, waterway pollution and the fur trade.