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Mammals of Ijams

Due to their elusive nature and penchant for nocturnal activities, mammals can be some of the most difficult animals to find at Ijams. However, deer, skunks, groundhogs, and many more mammals make Ijams Nature Center their home. While you night not find the actual animal, you may see tracks, scat, or other signs of these Ijams residents.

North American River Otter



The playful North American river otter is well adapted for semi-aquatic living. This mammal has thick, protective fur to help it keep warm while swimming in cold waters. The river offer’s body is designed for fast, efficient swimming. It has short legs, webbed feet, a long, narrow body, and a flattened head. Its long, strong tail helps propel the otter through the water.


North American river otters live in much of Canada and the United States, except for portions of the Southwest, as well as in Mexico’s Rio Grande and Colorado River delta areas. Provided there is adequate food, they can thrive in any aquatic habitat, such as ponds, marshes, lakes, rivers, and estuaries, and can live in cold, warm, or even high-elevation areas. River otters build their dens along the water in abandoned burrows or empty hollows. The dens have underwater entrances so they can be easily accessed from the water. Bobcats, alligators, coyotes, raptors, and other large predators will sometimes prey on North American river otters.


River Otters can be found at any point along the Tennessee River. They will sometimes come into the smaller channels near the Lotus Pond and Forks of the River (near Ijams) during the late afternoons and early evenings. The best way to see them is by kayak at dusk.


North American river otters were hunted and trapped extensively for their fur in the 19th and 20th centuries, and are still hunted in some places. They were completely gone from the Knoxville area, but reintroduction efforts in the 1990s repopulated the area. They are important as aquatic predators and are an indicator species of good water quality. 

Species Seen at Ijams

Have you seen a mammal at Ijams that isn't on the following list of Tennessee mammals from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency? Add your sighting to the Ijams iNaturalist page.

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