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Published on : 20th December 2017

10 Interesting Facts About Otters

Otters in a row

Otters are carnivorous mammals with thick fur and webbed feet. They are friendly and playful which is why they’re one of the well-loved animals in the world. In the UK, otters almost became extinct in the fifties and sixties because of rivers contaminated with chemical residues. Fortunately, in 2011, the Environment Agency announced their return. Nowadays, these charismatic animals can be seen in every county in the UK. If otters fascinate you, below are some interesting otter facts.

1. There are 13 species of otters: The 13 species of otters are – African Clawless Otter, Asian Small-Clawed Otter, Congo Clawless Otter, Eurasian Otter, Giant Otter, Hairy-Nosed Otter, Marine Otter, Neotropical Otter, North American River Otter, South American River Otter , Sea Otter, Spotted-Neck Otter and  Smooth-Coated Otter.

The smallest of these species is the Asian small-clawed otter, while the biggest is the giant otter and the heaviest is the sea otter. Meanwhile, the most common species of otter in the UK is the Eurasian otter. It is also called European Otter and Eurasian River Otter. The best places in the UK to see otters are Lodge Park and Sherbourne Estate, Gilfach Farm, Portrack Marsh, Winnall Moors, Aughton Woods and Knapdale Forest.

Eurasian Otter

2. Among mammals, otters have the thickest fur: In one square inch of an otter’s body, around one million hairs are covering it. Also, this animal actually has two layers of fur – the longer hairs (which is visible to people) and the undercoat. The fur of otters does not just keep them warm but also help them stay buoyant by trapping air close to their skin.

In addition, otters love to keep their fur clean. They spend a considerable amount of time each day grooming themselves. Hence, you’d see them tirelessly scratching or biting their fur. At times, they rub it on grass to remove any dirt.

3. Otters are very playful: Don’t be surprised when you see otters happily sliding. It’s one of the things they love to do! In fact, when they’re not eating, sleeping or grooming, they are busy playing! Aside from sliding off river embankments, you’d also see them chasing their tails and wrestling with each other.

Otters playing

4. Otters eat a lot: Otters are small but that doesn’t mean they go easy on food. Did you know that the amount of food otters consume in a day is equivalent to 15% to 25% of their body weight? Female otters that are nursing even eat more than this! Otters spend a maximum of five hours a day just to find food. If they couldn’t find the food they need where they live, they move to another location. Why do they need to consume a lot of food? It’s because otters have very fast metabolism.Lastly, as mentioned earlier, they are carnivorous with a diverse diet. While they mainly feast on fish and invertebrates, some species eat rodents and frogs as well.

5. Otters’ droppings are not simply wastes: Spraint, the name used for otter droppings, are used to communicate and mark territories. In fact, scientists believe that each otter has a unique spraint (in terms of scent and composition), making it easier for them to identify each other. Moreover, simply smelling the spraint may give the otter an idea of the age, sex as well as the reproductive status of the otter. If you’re wondering about the smell of the spraint, they’re not that foul-smelling with one expert likening its scent to jasmine tea!

6. Otter pups can stay afloat but can’t swim on their own: The pups are already born with thick fur which enables them to float. However, they still do not have the skill or capability to swim. This is why, when mothers go out to hunt, they create a makeshift pen or wrap them tightly to keep them safe and steady while she’s away. It takes about two months before pups begin to learn how to swim.

7. Various terms are used to refer to a group of otters: The collective noun for otters are raft, romp, family, bevy and lodge. The term or name usually depends on where they are or what they are doing. For example, raft is used for groups of otters hanging in the water. Meanwhile, otters on land displaying playful behaviours are often referred to as romp.

8. Different species of otters have different gestation periods: Typically, the smaller otters carry their young for two months, while bigger ones like the sea otters have a gestation period of five months. Of the 13 species, only the sea otter gives birth in water. The rest do it in a den which are often created by other animals like beavers.

9. Pups stay with their mothers for a year: Apart from being unable to swim at birth, pups have sealed eyes which do not open until they’re a month old. They leave their mothers when they reach the age of one. By the age of two to five, they are already able to reproduce.

10. Most species of otters are declining in number: According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all except one species of otters are declining in number. In fact, four species are already tagged as ‘Near Threatened’ – African Clawless Otter, Congo Clawless Otter, Neotropical Otter and Spotted-Necked Otter. Meanwhile, five species are declared endangered – Sea Otter, Marine Otter, South American River Otter, Hairy-Nosed Otter and Giant Otter. Some of the things causing the decline in the population of this animal are poaching and pollutants. So far, only the population  of the North American River Otter species is stable.


Otters In  A Row

Image Attribution: By Harlequeen from Cambridge, United Kingdom (Otter Row) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Eurasian Otter

Image Attribution: By Drew Avery (European Otter {Lutra lutra}) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Otters playing

Image Attribution: By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA (Two Otters Playing) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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