BLACKSBURG — People walking by Virginia Tech’s Duck Pond “otter” keep their eyes peeled.
One of the river creatures has taken to swimming around the campus landmark.
Otters live in Stroubles Creek and this one probably just swam in, according to Jim Parkhurst, a Tech wildlife science professor and extension wildlife specialist.
The otter “simply followed the water course,” Parkhurst said. “The stream system is their I-81.”
The otter is likely enjoying the abundance of fish, species like sunfish, suckers and carp in the Duck Pond, Parkhurst said.
He predicted it’s a young otter who could soon try to find a mate and start a family in the area around the pond. The young otter likely was driven out of its mother’s territory elsewhere because she was having another brood of young this spring.
The furry creature has elicited social media love both for its novelty and cuteness.
Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment first tweeted out a picture of the otter during Tech’s Spring Break two weeks ago, advising observers to keep a safe distance away and avoid feeding the wild animal.
On Wednesday evening, Virginia Tech’s official Instagram account put out pictures of the otter. Less than 24 hours later the picture had garnered hundreds of comments and more than 8,900 likes.
According to Fairen Horner, Tech’s social media manager, an Instagram post of the otter has already become one of the most popular posts in the five-year history of the school’s official account.
The post has more than double a typical Instagram picture’s likes and triple the comments. The picture has made almost 90,000 impressions on the Instagram platform. On top of the public interaction, more than 450 people have saved or sent the post in a private message between friends, she said.
Pictures of the otter have also been shared on Twitter and Facebook.
“An otter is here,” Horner said. “And it’s made my week.”
Horner said that because of one user’s comment on Instagram, the university’s licensing department recently decided to make a flash order of shirts with the phrase “Otter Sandman” on them.
The otter will likely be fine with people in the area and will adapt to some presence, but it won’t want to get too close, Parkhurst said.
People walking by the Duck Pond can look out for the animal but they should avoid getting too close for their own safety as well as the otter’s, he said.
He said if the animal is fed regularly, it will likely develop a poor diet and because it’s a wild animal with unpredictable behavior, people should take caution.
Otterwise, observers should simply enjoy catching a glimpse of the creature.
“They’re charismatic critters,” Parkhurst said. “They’re cute and funny.”