The North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) are extremely adaptable to their environments, which explains their wide range of habitats across the North American continent. Hot or cold, low or high elevations, these semi-aquatic mammals can be found in most waterways. Even more, they don’t let the “river” in their name limit them, these otters are happy to also take up residence in lakes, ponds, and marshes .
In the early 19th and 20th century, river otters were trapped and traded for their valuable fur. As the fur trade declined, North American river otters’ populations have increased and stabilized with the help of reintroduction programs . Today, their habitats in some areas are still under threat of destruction and water pollution.
These otter-ly adorable animals are well-known for their playful antics. Though amusing to watch, chasing and wrestling are thought to be an integral part of teaching survival skills to their young. North American river otters are often seen sliding down, rolling around, and rubbing themselves onto surfaces. While it may look silly, this behavior is a way to mark their territory, as their scent glands are located near the base of their tails.
Interestingly, whether the North American river otter is loyal to one significant otter or if they see otter-people, is still up for debate. Some research indicates that otters may mate for life with one partner, while other studies have identified polygamy among river otter populations .
Today, we are releasing a chromosome-length genome assembly for the species. This is an upgrade for the genome generated by the Canada’s Genomic Enterprise (available here). The sample for the Hi-C upgrade was donated by Belle, a female North American river otter living at the Houston zoo.
This is the fifth member of the weasel (Mustelidae) family in our collection. See below how the new genome compares to the Eurasian otter Lutra lutra. We generated the Eurasian otter genome assembly together with the Wellcome Sanger Institute and shared it a blog post from October, here. A formal paper describing this assembly is now out, read it here!