10 Facts About Otters That We Love
One of nature’s most endearing critters is the otter. With their childlike personalities and zest for life, it’s hard not to be in awe of these sweet water-dwelling creatures. Beneath the cute exterior of otters, however, there is more to them than meets the eye. Here are ten facts about the otter you may not have heard about.
1. There Are Over 13 Species
Otters come in many shapes, sizes, and varieties in the animal kingdom. There are 13 species spanning across the globe from large critters. Including the sea otter, Eurasian otter and the petite small-clawed otter (native to Asia). The title of the largest otter in the world goes to the South American Giant River Otter. This species can reach up to 182 cm or 6ft, the size of an adult human.
Most otters live in freshwater environments such as wetlands, rivers, and lakes while species like the sea otter are found in the Pacific Ocean. Most sea otters make their homes on the coast of Alaska (and by “most” we mean an astonishing 90%.)
2. Otters Lack Blubber
Otters are one of the few marine animals that lack blubber for water-dwelling life. Instead, they have very thick and dense fur to help them traverse through the water. There are roughly a million hairs per square inch that cover these animals. Which, not only help them to swim, but keep their bodies insulated from the cold depths.
Because of how thick their fur is, otters have to consistently keep their undercoats and fine hairs groomed, to guarantee water will not seep in against their skin. Meanwhile, their fur is also waterproof. As are other parts of their bodies such as the nostrils and ears.
3. Otters Are Nurturing Parents
Besides being cute, otters are protective and playful parents. After the breeding season, the mother otter is the one that typically cares for her newborns until they develop necessary survival skills. Some baby otters, also known as pups, can stay alongside their mother until they are 6 months of age – or up until a year old.
Newborn pups face a challenge when learning to swim by themselves. This is due to their fur being denser than the adults. So, usually, a mother otter will let her pup float to the surface while she hunts for fresh food. Pups usually learn to swim when they are a few months old.
4. A Group Of Otters Is Called A Raft
Most otters are solitary creatures until mating season, but there are species such as sea otters who can form large family groups known as rafts. The biggest group recorded contained over 2,000 individuals living together side by side. Typically in these kinds of families, otters are polygynous meaning that one male will breed with multiple females to produce pups.
In these raft groups, sea otters have been observed entangling themselves with one another playfully. Often wrapping themselves in seaweed to float downstream together.
5. They Can Consume A LOT Of Food
Despite their sleek appearances, otters consume generous amounts of prey. Their high metabolism requires that they eat as much as 11kg of food per day to keep up with their energy demands. That’s the equivalent of 24 pounds or about a quarter of their entire body weight.
Otters typically feast on creatures such as crustaceans, fish, and molluscs. Luckily, their bite force is powerful enough to fracture the outer shells of sea life like crabs and mussels. They are also known to use tools such as rocks to help them break apart shells, if their bite isn’t enough to crack one open.
6. These Cuties Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers
Otters are such fast swimmers that they could give Olympic athletes a run for their money. These charming animals can reach average speeds up to 9 kilometres per hour, or 3-4 miles per hour. Their swim speeds vary by species and are generally based on their environmental needs, to help them catch prey and avoid predators.
The largest otters, the South American Giant River Otter, can travel up to 14kph (9 mph) while North American River Otters can travel up to 11kph (7mph). For moving through the water, these speeds are exceptionally fast. This is on par with humans, of whom some can swim up to 8kph (5mph).
7. An Otter is Part of the Mustelidae Family
Otters belong to the family Mustelidae. And are one of the many wonderful species which include weasels, minks, badgers, and even the mighty wolverine. Many of these animals are known for being sleek and having thick coats. The largest animal in this family, goes to the sea otter.
This family of creatures contain some of the oldest species of carnivorous mammals known on the planet. Many of the animals within this biological family are known as “keystone species” (a species that plays an important role in an ecosystem), or living indicators of how well an environment is thriving.
8. Otters Have Diverse Folklore
Across different cultures around the world, otters have diverse roles when it comes to stories and myths. In countries such as Japan and China, otters are known to be shapeshifters that lure men and women to their dooms, some taking the form of children to do the deed. Native American tribes attribute otters to signs of fortune and good luck, some being well known as powerful totems.
This can, however, vary depending on the tribe. As otters can also be seen as messengers of death, which involve drowning. Meanwhile, other cultures see otters as spirits – or even sacred creatures that can control the flow of rivers and creeks.
9. They Can Get Very Grumpy
Don’t let their cute demeanours fool you, for otters can have fierce attitudes. Some otters are known to hold other otter pups for ransom to gain access to food, mates, and other territories. They are also known to have powerful bites that may require hospitalisation, if one attempts to poach or take one as a pet.
The mating habits of some otters are known to be lethal. In some cases, the males end up drowning the females while they are locked. For sea otters, this accounts for 11% of their deaths or roughly a couple thousand per year, which is quite shocking. And you thought the black widow was brutal.
10. Otters Face Many Great Threats
Unfortunately, these wonderful and unique mammals face dreadful harm. In the UK, otters were nearly brought to extinction in the 20th century. Currently, they are facing danger from the illegal pet trade, as well as conflict with fishermen for food resources. Not to mention that they face habitat loss from pollution. There was a time where many species of otter were on the brink of extinction, due to the fashion industry wanting their fur for clothing purposes.
Despite these harms, along with global warming, there is hope for the otter. Advocacy is growing, across the globe, and better efforts to clean up water pollution are saving many species from dying out.