Otters in Texas: Where They Live & How Many Are in the State?

Written by Niccoy Walker
Published: August 2, 2022
© iStock.com/MarcQuebec
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The cute and playful otter is equally comfortable on land and in water; it inhabits various habitats and can thrive in various environments. This high-spirited animal was once plentiful in Texas but began declining in the 19th century. But Texans are frequently spotting them in marshes and other water homes. Are otters in Texas making a comeback? Plus, find out where they live, how many are in the state, and what to do if you spot one. 

About Otters in Texas

Most Romantic Animals
River otters live near marshes and bayous, making their dens next to the water’s edge.

©iStock.com/pr2is

The North American river otter is a long, slender creature with glossy brown fur that belongs to the weasel family. This weasel has adaptations that help it thrive in water, such as webbed feet, short legs, and an aerodynamic body perfect for diving and swimming, which it often does. Otters make their homes in burrows near bodies of water like rivers, lakes, and swamps. Their dens back up to the edge of the water and feature countless tunnels where they can come and go from the water.

Along with webbed feet, otters have water-resistant fur, forceful tails, muscular bodies, and nostrils and ears that close in the water. They can also hold their breath for around eight minutes. River otters are either diurnal or nocturnal but mainly hunt and are generally more active at night. However, you may see otters more active during the day in remote areas away from humans. These carnivorous mammals are opportunistic eaters, meaning they eat what’s available. But their preferred meals include an abundance of fish like perch and catfish. They will also consume salamanders, frogs, freshwater clams, mussels, crayfish, snails, and turtles.

River otters have a playful, almost child-like reputation. They prefer to amuse themselves on land by running and sliding down hills when not diving underwater. A mother and her pups enjoy these activities, which also help teach them survival skills. The males do not play an active role in raising their young; mothers give birth in their dens to litters of one to six and teach them necessary skills like swimming. Now that you know how they thrive in their environments, find out where they live in the state.  

Where Do Otters Live in Texas?

river otter swimming in water
River otters are abundant in coastal areas in East Texas.

©iStock.com/Kathryn Farley

While river otters were once abundant through most of the state, like the Panhandle, North-Central, and Southern Texas, they are now mainly in the eastern half. You will find them near marshes, bayous, and brackish inlets in the Gulf Coast region. 

While you may primarily spot them in coastal areas in East Texas, people have reported sightings in Central Texas as well. You may even see them in more populated Texas waterways, including Downtown Houston in Buffalo Bayou. Some have reported seeing river otters in unexpected places like West Texas and as north as Wichita Falls.

These shy, unobtrusive creatures are active year-round but rarely seen. They wander through their habitats and are scarce in many backgrounds. Even though they are spotted more frequently in the state, you may not see them very often.    

How Many Otters Are in Texas?

river otter sticking tongue out
Otters in Texas are no longer endangered. Their populations are stable and increasing.

©iStock.com/Heather Burditt

The otter population in Texas is doing well, but exact numbers are hard to come by. These creatures are elusive and hard to track. Also, Texas Parks and Wildlife no longer conduct regular otter surveys because their numbers are steady and rising. TPWD once listed this animal as one of its most significant concerns, but its population is rebounding quickly.

River otters had a copious population throughout Texas, but their numbers considerably dwindled during the 19th and early twentieth centuries. Hunters and trappers killed off many of these creatures for their desirable pelts. Moreso, otters are particularly sensitive to pollution and changes in river systems. Healthy rivers beget healthy otters. Texas is focused on cleaning up its polluted bodies of water, which is part of why you may see more of these playful animals in the coming years.

Where to See River Otters in Texas

Otters move around a lot, never staying in one place too long. Because of this, it may be difficult to spot them. However, you can visit a few places with an increased chance of a Texas river otter sighting. 

  • Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge: A protected coastal marsh and bayou habitat.
  • Davy Crockett National Forest: Woodlands featuring streams and plenty of wildlife.
  • Fairfield Lake State Park: A 2,400-acre lake with recreational opportunities.
  • Honey Creek Natural Area: A lush forested canyon and floodplain.

Are Otters Aggressive?

river otter vs sea otter
Otters can become aggressive when threatened. However, attacks on humans are infrequent.

©iStock.com/DanielLacy

River otters tend to avoid areas with large human populations, but sightings are becoming more frequent with increased numbers. These aquatic carnivores enjoy playtime but can become aggressive when threatened

They are highly intelligent and curious and stay on the lookout for potential predators, including humans. Otter attacks on humans are incredibly infrequent but can happen. They have sharp canines, crushing molars, and piercing claws, and they can defend themselves when they feel necessary. These weasels also carry certain diseases, and you must be tested and given treatment after an attack.  

What Should You Do if You Encounter One?

River otters look cute and cuddly, but like many wild animals, they can be dangerous. Take these steps to protect yourself from otter attacks in Texas.

  • Keep your distance. You may frighten them if you get too close.
  • Do not touch, chase, or corner the otter.
  • Do not talk loudly or use flash on your camera. These creatures are sensitive to loud noises and harsh lights.
  • Don’t feed the otters. It can disrupt their healthy ecosystem and increases the chance of future attacks. Also, don’t litter or leave sharp objects around their habitat.
  • Keep your pets on a leash. Dogs may chase the otters, which can cause harm to the otter and the dog.


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What Do River Otters Eat?
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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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