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Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present[1]
Fischotter, Lutra Lutra.JPG
Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Subfamily: Lutrinae
Bonaparte, 1838
Type genus
Brünnich, 1771





Otters are carnivorous

invertebrates. Lutrinae is a branch of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, mink, and wolverines
, among other animals.


The word otter derives from the

Old English word otor or oter. This, and cognate words in other Indo-European languages, ultimately stem from the Proto-Indo-European language root *wódr̥, which also gave rise to the English word "water".[4][5]


An otter's den is called a holt or couch. Male otters are called dogs or boars, females are called bitches or sows, and their offspring are called pups or cubs.[6][7] The collective nouns for otters are bevy, family, lodge, romp (being descriptive of their often playful nature) or, when in water, raft.[8][9]

The feces of otters are typically identified by their distinctive aroma, the smell of which has been described as ranging from freshly mown hay to putrefied fish;[10] these are known as spraints.[11]

A sea otter playing in captivity.

Life cycle

The gestation period in otters is about 60 to 86 days. The newborn pup is cared for by the bitch, dog, and older offspring. Bitch otters reach sexual maturity at approximately two years of age and males at approximately three years. The holt is built under tree roots or a rocky cairn, more common in Scotland. It is lined with moss and grass.

After one month, the pup can leave the holt and after two months, it is able to swim. The pup lives with its family for approximately one year. Otters live up to 16 years; they are by nature playful, and frolic in the water with their pups. Its usual source of food is fish, and further downriver, eels, but it may sample frogs and birds.


Otters have long, slim bodies and relatively short limbs. Their most striking anatomical features are the powerful

under water.

Several otter species live in cold waters and have high

European otters must eat 15% of their body weight each day, and sea otters 20 to 25%, depending on the temperature. In water as warm as 10 °C (50 °F), an otter needs to catch 100 g (3.5 oz) of fish per hour to survive. Most species hunt for three to five hours each day and nursing
mothers up to eight hours each day.


For most otters, fish is the staple of their diet. This is often supplemented by frogs,

sea urchins and other shelled creatures. They are notable for their ability to use stones to break open shellfish on their stomachs. This skill must be learned by the young.[13]

Otters are active hunters, chasing prey in the water or searching the beds of rivers, lakes or the seas. Most species live beside water, but river otters usually enter it only to hunt or travel, otherwise spending much of their time on land to prevent their fur becoming waterlogged. Sea otters are considerably more aquatic and live in the ocean for most of their lives.

Otters are playful animals and appear to engage in various behaviors for sheer enjoyment, such as making waterslides and then sliding on them into the water. They may also find and play with small stones. Different species vary in their social structure, some being largely solitary, while others live in groups – in a few species these groups may be fairly large.



Giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis)

North American river otter (Lontra canadensis)

Marine otter (Lontra felina)

Southern river otter (Lontra provocax)

Neotropical river otter
(Lontra longicaudis)

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris)

Spotted-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicollis)

Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra)

Hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana)

Japanese river otter
† (Lutra nippon)

Lutra euxena

Lutra castiglionis

Lutra simplicidens

Lutra trinacriae

African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis)

Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea)

Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus)

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata)

Cladogram, after Koepfli et al. 2008[1] and Bininda-Emonds et al. 1999[14]

Extant species

Image Genus Species
Fischotter Lutra lutra1.jpg
Lutra Brisson, 1762
Spotted-necked otter 1.jpg
Pocock, 1921
Smooth cotted otter (1).jpg
Lutrogale (Gray, 1865)
Lontra Gray, 1843
Pteronura brasiliensis zoo Brasilia 01.jpg
Gray, 1837
Water Animal.jpg
Aonyx Lesson, 1827
Marsh lounging (15085860020).jpg
Enhydra Fleming, 1828

Extinct species

Subfamily Lutrinae

European otter

The European otter (Lutra lutra), also called the Eurasian otter, inhabits Europe, most of Asia and parts of North Africa. In the

Biodiversity Action Plan envisages the re-establishment of otters by 2010 in all the UK rivers and coastal areas they inhabited in 1960. Roadkill
deaths have become one of the significant threats to the success of their re-establishment.

North American river otter

The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) became one of the major animals hunted and trapped for fur in North America after European contact. River otters eat a variety of fish and shellfish, as well as small land mammals and birds. They grow to one meter (3 to 4 ft) in length and weigh from five to 15 kilograms (10 to 30 lb).

In some areas, the North American river otter is a protected species, and some places have otter sanctuaries that help sick and injured otters to recover.

Sea otter

Morro Bay
, California

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are classified as marine mammals and live along the Pacific coast of North America. Their historic range included shallow waters of the Bering Strait and Kamchatka, and as far south as Japan. Sea otters have about 26,000 to 165,000 hairs per square centimeters of skin,[25] a rich fur for which humans hunted them almost to extinction. By the time the 1911 Fur Seal Treaty gave them protection, so few sea otters remained that the fur trade had become unprofitable. Sea otters eat shellfish and other

shells, making them one of the relatively small number of animals that use tools. They grow to 1.0 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) in length and weigh 30 kg (66 lb). Although once near extinction, they have begun to spread again, from remnant populations in California and Alaska

Unlike most marine mammals (such as seals or whales), sea otters do not have a layer of insulating blubber.[26] As with other species of otter, they rely on a layer of air trapped in their fur, which they keep topped up by blowing into the fur from their mouths. They spend most of their time in the water, whereas other otters spend much of their time on land.

Giant otter

The giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) inhabits South America, especially the Amazon river basin, but is becoming increasingly rare due to poaching, habitat loss, and the use of mercury and other toxins in illegal alluvial gold mining. This gregarious animal grows to a length of up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft), and is more aquatic than most other otters.

Relation with humans


Otters have been hunted for their pelts from at least the 1700s, although it may have begun well before then. Early hunting methods included darts, arrows, nets and snares but later, traps were set on land and guns used.

There has been a long history of otter pelts being worn around the world. In China it was standard for the royalty to wear robes made from them. People that were financially high in status also wore them. The tails of otters were often made into items for men to wear. These included hats and belts. Even some types of mittens for children have been made from the fur of otters.[28]

Otters have also been hunted using dogs, specifically the otterhound.[29] From 1958 to 1963, the 11 otter hunts in England and Wales killed 1,065 otters between them. In such hunts, the hunters notched their poles after every kill. The prized trophy that hunters would take from the otters was the penis bone, which would be worn as a tie-pin.[30]

Traffic (the wildlife trade monitoring network) reported that otters are at serious risk in Southeast Asia and have disappeared from parts of their former range. This decline in populations is due to hunting to supply the demand for skins.[31]

Fishing for humans

For many generations, fishermen in southern Bangladesh have bred

Narail, Bangladesh.[32][33]

Attacks on humans

Otters are territorial in nature.[34] Certain regions, such as Florida, have seen both otter and human populations expand during the first decade of the 21st century. A 2011 review by the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group showed that otter attacks reported between 1875 and 2010 occurred most often in Florida, with the majority involving the North American otter. At least 42 instances of attack were found, including one resulting in death and another case of serious injury. Rabies was present in 36% of the anecdotal reports.[34] 80% of otter bite victims do not end up obtaining medical treatment.[35]

Animal welfare groups say that unless threatened, otters rarely attack humans.[36] In November 2021, a British man in his 60s was ambushed during his early morning walk in Singapore Botanic Gardens by about 20 otters. Despite weighing over 200 pounds, he was trampled and bitten and could not stand up without help from a nearby rescuer. The man speculated that another runner might have stepped on one of the animals earlier and wished that there could be more lighting installed at that location.[36]

Religion and mythology

Volsunga saga

In Irish mythology, the character Lí Ban was turned from a woman into a mermaid, half human and half salmon, and given three hundred years of life to roam the oceans. Her lapdog assumed the form of an otter and shared her prolonged lifetime and her extensive wanderings.

In some Native American cultures, otters are considered

totem animals.[38]

The otter is held to be a clean animal belonging to Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrian belief, and taboo to kill.[39]

In popular Korean mythology, it is told that people who see an otter (soodal) will attract 'rain clouds' for the rest of their lives.[citation needed]

In the Buddhist Jataka tales, The Otters and The Wolf, two otters agreed to let a wolf settle their dispute in dividing their caught fish but it was taken away by the cunning wolf.[40]

Japanese folklore

Sekien Toriyama

In Japanese, otters are called "kawauso" (獺、川獺). In Japanese folklore, they fool humans in the same way as foxes (kitsune) and tanuki.

In the Noto region, Ishikawa Prefecture, there are stories where they shapeshift into beautiful women or children wearing checker-patterned clothing. If a human attempts to speak to one, they will answer "oraya" and then answer "araya," and if anybody asks them anything, they say cryptic things like "kawai."[41][42] There are darker stories, such as one from Kaga Province (now Ishikawa Prefecture) in which an otter that lives in the castle's moat shapeshifts into a woman, invites males, and then kills and eats them.[43]

In the

kaidan, essays, and legends of the Edo period like the "Urami Kanawa" (裏見寒話),[44] "Taihei Hyaku Monogatari" (太平百物語), and the "Shifu Goroku" (四不語録), there are tales about strange occurrences like otters that shapeshift into beautiful women and kill men.[42]

In the town of Numatachi, Asa District, Hiroshima Prefecture (now Hiroshima), they are called "tomo no kawauso" (伴のカワウソ) and "ato no kawauso" (阿戸のカワウソ). It is said that they shapeshift into bōzu (a kind of monk) and appear before passers-by, and if the passer-by tries to get close and look up, its height steadily increases until it becomes a large bōzu.[45]

In the Tsugaru region, Aomori Prefecture, they are said to possess humans. It is said that those possessed by otters lose their stamina as if their soul has been extracted.[46] They are also said to shapeshift into severed heads and get caught in fishing nets.[46]

In the Kashima District and the Hakui District in Ishikawa Prefecture, they are seen as a yōkai under the name kabuso or kawaso. They perform pranks like extinguishing the fire of the paper lanterns of people who walk on roads at night, shapeshifting into a beautiful woman of 18 or 19 years of age and fooling people, or tricking people and making them try to engage in sumo against a rock or a tree stump.[42] It is said that they speak human words, and sometimes people are called and stopped while walking on roads.[47]

In the Ishikawa and Kochi Prefectures, they are said to be a type of kappa, and there are stories told about how they engage in sumo with otters.[42] In places like the Hokuriku region, Kii, and Shikoku, the otters are seen as a type of kappa.[48] In the Kagakushū, a dictionary from the Muromachi period, an otter that grew old becomes a kappa.[49]

In an Ainu folktale, in Urashibetsu (in

Abashiri, Hokkaido), there are stories where monster otters shapeshift into humans, go into homes where there are beautiful girls, and try to kill the girl and make her its wife.[50]

In China, like in Japan, there are stories where otters shapeshift into beautiful women in old books like

In Search of the Supernatural and the Zhenyizhi (甄異志).[44]

See also


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  4. ^ "Otter". Merriam Webster's online dictionary. Retrieved 16 September 2009.
  5. ^ Harper, Douglas. "otter". Online Etymology Dictionary.
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  7. ^ "Species: Otter". The Mammal Society. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  8. ^ M & P Briggs, The Natural History of British Isles, pp. 334–35[ISBN missing]
  9. ^ "Facts about otters". Otter World. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Spraint Analysis". Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
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  13. ^ "Tool use in otters". OneKind. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
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  21. ^ Gerard F. Willemsen (2006). "Megalenhydris and its relationship to Lutra reconsidered" (PDF). Hellenic Journal of Geosciences. 41: 83–87. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 March 2010.
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    S2CID 58892181
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  25. ^ "Otters – Physical Characteristics". Archived from the original on 2 November 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  26. ^ a b "Sea Otter – Enhydra lutris – facts, video, and sound". Defenders of Wildlife. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  27. ^ Laidre, Kristin; Jameson, Donald; DeMaster, Douglas (2001). "Carrying Capacity of Otters" (PDF). Marine Mammal Science. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  28. ^ "Otter hunting". 2009. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  29. ^ "Otter Hunting AKA Otter Hunting Begins – British Pathé". Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  30. ^ "Otterhunting". Animal Cruelty Investigation Group/Animal Welfare Information Service. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  31. ^ "Otters feel the heat in Southeast Asia". Traffic (conservation programme). 9 December 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  32. ^ de Trey-White, Simon (2007). "Fisherman's friend". Geographical. 79 (5).
  33. ^ Feeroz, M.M., Begum, S. and Hasan, M. K. (2011). "Fishing with Otters: a Traditional Conservation Practice in Bangladesh". Proceedings of XIth International Otter Colloquium, IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 28A: 14–21.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ a b Belanger, M (2011). "A review of violent or fatal otter attacks". IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 28 (1): 11–16.
  35. PMID 1562653
  36. ^ a b Lin, Chen (11 December 2021). "British man recounts attack by otters in Singapore gardens". Reuters. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  37. ^ "The Otter's Ransom". Archived from the original on 9 September 2006. Retrieved 5 July 2007.
  38. ^ "Native American Indian Otter Legends, Meaning and Symbolism from the Myths of Many Tribes".
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  44. ^ a b 柴田宵曲 (1991) [1963]. "続妖異博物館". In 木村新他編 (ed.). 柴田宵曲文集. Vol. 6. 小沢書店. p. 477.
  45. ^ 藤井昭編著 (1976). 安芸の伝説. 第一法規出版. p. 166.
  46. ^ a b 内田邦彦 (1979) [1929]. 津軽口碑集. 歴史図書社. p. 126.
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External links