Because of its proximity to the ocean, the animals and plants in the wildlife community of the Coast must be adapted to the effects of salt and saltwater. In areas that are immersed by the tides, only certain plants able to withstand being flooded by saltwater can survive, such as Spartina grass. Areas above the tides, such as the maritime forest of barrier islands, have to have plants that are resistant to salt spray picked up off the ocean by the wind. Many trees have waxy leaves to protect them from this, such as live oaks and wax myrtles. The coast is a place where three different environments (land, freshwater and saltwater) meet. Because of this, animals and plants from each of these environments may be found in the Coast at different times. Animals and plants that are adapted to the constantly changing conditions, such as periwinkles and Spartina grass, are permanent residents of the Coast.
River otters are an example of an animal found in all regions of South Carolina (the Mountains, Piedmont, Sandhills, Coastal Plain, and Coast), but not in the ocean. This predator occurs throughout North America except for the extreme northern portion of Alaska, the Southwest desert and the arid Plains states. They are generally found in areas with average winter temperatures above 0 degrees Fahrenheit and average summer temperatures below 85 degrees Fahrenheit and in areas with an average annual rainfall above 10 inches. They are found in regions that have freshwater and brackish water habitats such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, swamps and marshes Locally common in South Carolina, it ranges across the state in virtually all freshwater and estuarine aquatic habitats.
A member of the weasel family, the otter has short legs with webbed toes, a broad tail, and an elongated body. An adult otter will grow from three-and-half to four feet in length and weigh from ten to twenty-five pounds. Social animals, otters travel within a home range of 15 square miles in family units of four to five individuals.
Uniquely adapted to its aquatic environment, the otter has webbed toes, a water repellant coat, and the ability to close its ears and nostrils while diving. The otter also has long whiskers that help it to detect prey underwater. These adaptations allow the animal to exist chiefly on a diet of fish, which they catch with their superior underwater swimming skills. Otters are also known to eat frogs, turtles, snakes, crayfish and an occasional bird.
Beavers are very important to otters. If beavers frequent a particular area, there is a good chance that otters will also be found there. The ponds created by beaver dams are prime habitat for the otter. Otters often use the abandoned dens of beavers as shelters. If a beaver den is not available, they also may be found in hollow trees or between rocks or roots, building nests out of sticks, leaves and grass.
Otters are active and curious. They spend much of their time playing with each other and exploring their environment. While other animals may play to practice hunting
From COASTeam Aquatic Workshops: Mountains (Grade 4); a joint effort between the
COASTeam Program at the College of Charleston and the South Carolina Aquarium – funded by the SC Sea Grant Consortium.