Jessica Miller was sitting on her couch Tuesday evening when she spotted something through the window — a mother river otter and her four little pups "bouncing down the 8th fairway of Ocean Point Golf Links at Fripp Island."
"I threw everything aside and went sprinting through my house for my camera!" Miller said. "My cats were hiding for the next 20 minutes I scared them so bad!"
Miller, who works as a naturalist at Fripp Island Resort, says she sees the cute creatures at least once or twice a year.
"Frequently my sightings have been on chilly, overcast days," she said. "Maybe they prefer exploring when they are less likely to be seen."
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While river otters aren't endangered in the state of South Carolina, sightings "are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant," according to the South Carolina Aquarium.
Their population has seen a massive decline across the country due to humans hunting them for their fur. However, the population is so dense here that they've been caught and redistributed to other states, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Here are five other fun facts about Lowcountry otters:
1. They're not sea otters.
Even though our otters can live in salt water, they're not the same as California's sea otters. Sea otters only live in the Pacific Ocean, and they're a lot different than the river otters we see along the East Coast.
River otters are much smaller; they usually only weigh about 20 pounds, while sea otters can weigh up to 100 pounds. Sea otters also rarely come on land, while river otters are frequently on land and even sleep in dens they build onshore.
Lowcountry river otters tend to live in coastal marshes, blackwater swamps and coastal waterfowl impoundments.
One of the most well-known differences? Sea otters frequently float on their backs; that's usually how they eat. A river otter never swims on its back and usually eats on land.
2. They're playful — but they can still hurt you
Otters are well-known — and loved — for their playful behavior.
But don't let their cuteness fool you.
While it's rare, river otters have been known to attack humans. Just two years ago, a pair of brothers were attacked by river otters in a California lake.
River otters prey on fish as well as hard-shelled aquatic creatures like crabs, mollusks and turtles, so they have really sharp teeth. And while they're not prone to attack, they are a predatory species that will protect their families and their habitat.
3. They can take down an alligator
River otters aren't just predatory animals — they're nearly an apex predator.
While they can be hunted by larger mammals like coyotes, bobcats and alligators, they're also known to take on larger prey.
According to National Geographic, the otter knew to bite the alligator behind the head — a learned behavior it probably picked up after previous failed attempts.
Otters can also eat mammals like beavers and raccoons, National Geographic says.
4. They can breathe under water — and ice
River otters range from the southern United States to Canada, so they've adapted to survive all types of weather.
Not only have they figured out how to "close their nostrils and ears" in order to swim underwater for up to 8 minutes, they've also adapted to swim beneath ice, according to the South Carolina Aquarium.
The otters "use trapped air bubbles" to continue to hunt in icy waters, the aquarium says.
5. They can be monogamous
Unlike most wildlife — and some humans — river otters can pick a mate to stick with for life, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
However, the social "families" are typically just the mother otters and her pups. River otters have two to five pups each year, typically born between February and April. The pups stay with their mom until they're a little over a year old.
The males and females only associate with each other during mating season.
And while monogamous pairs have been observed, the males don't always stay loyal.