Playful otters showing up around lake
Lake County has an abundance of wild animals and they are commonly seen throughout the county. There have been a number of mountain lion and bobcat sightings in recent weeks and even a rare sighting of a white deer. A number of lakeside residents are also reporting seeing a lot of otters on their docks. There are even a pair of otters residing in the vicinity of Library Park in Lakeport.
Otters have been in the lake for thousands of years. According to wildlife biologists, the otters in Clear Lake are river otters and probably migrated to Clear Lake by way of Cache Creek. The creek empties into the Yolo Bypass, which holds a large population of otters. Otters are very territorial and as the population in an area grows, a few otters are forced to leave and establish new territory. Otters can now be found in Clear Lake and Indian Valley Reservoir as well as at Upper Blue Lake and Lake Pillsbury.
Otters are the largest member of the Mustelidae family, which includes mink, skunks, weasels and badgers. They live about 15 years in the wild. An adult otter weighs up to 25 pounds and can be as much as 4 feet long. The head is small and round, the eyes and ears are also small, and they have webbed feet. Their body is perfect for swimming. The mother takes complete responsibility for raising the young. The adult male is called a boar, the female a sow, and the young are called pups.
Otters spend most of their life either in or around water. Their dense fur protects them from cold water and when they dive their heart rate slows to less than 20 beats per minute, which allows them to conserve oxygen and stay submerged for up to eight minutes. They are incredibly fast swimmers and have little trouble catching fish. At Clear Lake one of their primary foods is the crawdad. The docks in the Lakeport area are often loaded with crawdad shells. What happens is that the otters dive and bring up crawdads and then climb up on a dock to eat them.
At one time trappers just about decimated the otter population because of their luxurious fur, but they have been making a comeback in recent years.
Otters are playful critters and are enormously curious. Fishermen often report seeing otters swimming around their boats. A few years ago a bass fisherman said an otter climbed into his boat and went to sleep on the rear platform. The otter stayed there for about 15 minutes before waking up and diving over the side.
Clear Lake is home to another animal that closely resembles the otter and is often mistaken for one. That animal is the mink. The mink has the same features as the otter but is much smaller. It’s often found along the rocky shores at Buckingham and in Soda Bay. There is even a mink living in the rocks at Library Park in Lakeport.
A mink is one of the fiercest animals in the wild pound per pound. It preys on ducks and small animals such as rabbits and mice. They are cannibals and if agitated a mother has been known to eat her young. In the days when trapping mink was popular, a mink would eat another mink that was caught in a trap.
At one time the mink was prized for its fur. There are even commercial mink ranches where they are raised solely for their pelts.
I trapped mink as a youngster growing up in Northern Minnesota. In those days a prime mink pelt would bring up to $40, which was a princely sum. I bought my school clothes by trapping mink, muskrat and beaver.
Along with the many species of birds, the otter and mink are two other examples of the diversity of wildlife found at Clear Lake