Amblonyx's Quick Guide to Otters
What is an otter?
Otters are semi-aquatic mammals of the Mustelidae family (related to stoats, weasels, skunks and badgers). With 13 species, they are quite diverse. But they are all sleek, streamlined swimmers with powerful jaws and sharp teeth. They range from 75cm (Asian short-clawed) to 2.75m (giant Brazilian).
What do otters eat?
Lots of fishy foods and other meat. The European otters' favourite food is eels! But its menu includes salmon, trout, hapless waterbirds, courting frogs and the occasional rabbit.
How do they find their food?
They have a keen sense of smell and sharp hearing on land... in clear water they can spot prey with their eyes... and in murky waters their whiskers detect the twitching of fish.
Where do they live?
Otters are found in every continent except Australia and Antarctica. The European otter lives near water, whether it be rivers or the sea. They live in dens known as holts and mark their territories, which may cover many kilometers of river, with distinctive piles of spraint - otter poo.
Do they have enemies?
Otters don't have many predators, although killer whales have become a danger for sea otters in the Pacific. In Britain it was thought that escaped feral minks had contributed to the decline of the otter in Britain by competing for food, but recent studies suggest this isn't the case. The otter's worst enemy has been man, due to habitat loss around the world.
Are otters rare?
Otters were very endangered in Britain, due to agricultural chemical poisoning and loss of habitat. Thanks to conservation efforts they now have good populations in many parts of the country. Around the world many other otter species are now very endangered due to pressure on their habitats. The IOSF is working hard to protect otters everywhere.
How can I see an otter?
Otters are elusive creatures, fearful of man - we used to hunt them, after all! European otters are also mostly nocturnal. If you want to be sure of seeing otters, a wildlife park is the best place to go. Looking for them in the wild requires lots and lots of patience and lots of luck.
Do otters hibernate?
No, otters do not hibernate though they tend to be less active in the winter, spending much of their time in a holt.
Can I have an otter for christmas?
No! Otters are wild, wild animals! They would wreck the furniture, eat the cat and leave wet pawprints everywhere.