Swamp Otters

Heather Quaid (Jim and Nancy’s oldest) writes:

Love the new site, but I’m lost. I lived the first twenty years of my life in Leverite, and the only badger I recall seeing was “Mr. Badger” that they brought in to the museum for those Wildlife Discovery days. Unless this is one of those “things we don’t talk about” things, in which case I’ll wait till my next visit to get a straight answer.


Well, Heather, no need to wait that long. Growing up, you would have been calling them “swamp otters.” This name was popular well into the 1980’s when two unfortunate coincidences threw it out of favor. First and foremost, a kids show producer you may have heard of named Jim did a special about an otter and his jugband. Well, suddenly lots of parents felt real awkward when their kids found out they were going on an otter hunt and the swaddling babes would start crying “Please, Please don’t kill Emmet!”

The other factor was the discovery of a subspecies of Lutra canadensis that was under study by wildlife authorities.

So, a new name was needed. Some folks started calling them Nutria, but then we started having nutria show up in the area. Another popular one bandied about “Musk Rat,” but that got Big Paul real upset. Seems the muskrat is like a totem animal to him, and he was about three steps shy of torching City Hall if we kept down that path. So, we collectively agreed there was probably a better name out there.

Buster had tried to get folks to start calling them “Filthy Hippies,” but considering the backgrounds of about half the town, it seemed like a mean spirited jab more than anything.

It wasn’t until Ken McKesey pointed out that the American Badger, Taxidea taxus, didn’t really have a foothold on this side of the state, that we had a new name for our local pest. Ken got bonus point for the fact that both are ill tempered when cornered, ravenous scavengers, and have a tendency to be a bit territorial.

So there you go. They may not exactly be mammals, but badgers by name, badgers by nature. Just don’t expect them to sit in on any Wind in the Willows readings.