River otters are cute. Just look at that one sticking out its tongue.

River otters are cute. Just look at that one sticking out its tongue.

Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you were an Ohio settler trying to get a family through the winter, cute really didn't matter. River otters are also furry. That did matter.

Like other really cool animals people today ogle in zoos, river otters were extirpated from the state by the early 1900s - casualties of rampant trapping. Aquatic pollution and habitat loss likely played a part, too.

However, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has brought otters back.

In 1986, the agency began reintroducing the species by releasing 123 animals during a seven-year program. The critters were relocated to the Grand and Little Muskingum rivers and Killbuck and Stillwater creeks.

ODNR now says that they can be found in two-thirds of Ohio counties.

But where? How do you stumble upon one of these things sticking out its tongue from a log pile or splashing what I can only imagine is a smaller, even more adorable aquatic pal?

"They use the river and streams, but they're pretty secretive," said Gary Comer, assistant wildlife management supervisor for Ohio's Division of Wildlife. "I wouldn't be able to tell you where exactly to search for one. I've had reports of them in Columbus, right here on the Olentangy River."

I've spent a good deal of time outside, and I've never seen one. The closest I'm come is a large mink. (That's a little outdoorsman joke for you.)

Still, clues exist.

Otters often are seen in family groups during summer and fall, and they prefer to live in tributaries of clean rivers that don't see a lot of human traffic. They eat at night or twilight on a diet primarily of fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, snakes and frogs.

"My knowledge and understanding is that populations are very healthy, or we would not be allowing the take of them at this point," said Comer, noting that the state has allowed a trapping season for seven years.

Trap one? I just want to see one. My otter quest begins.

For more places to explore, click to the Ohio Adventure Map at columbusalive.com/venture.