Otter (Eurasian, European or Common)
Otters are playful, intelligent and inquisitive animals who are often seen enjoying themselves sliding around on muddy banks or in snow.
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Facts about Eurasian otters
- The European or Eurasian otter is often referred to as the common otter.
- Otters are part of the Mustelid family of animals which also includes badgers, pine martens and weasels.
- There are 13 species of otter around the world and many of them are endangered.
- Otters first inhabited the British Isles in the Cromerian Interglacial period (500,000 years ago), long before humans.
- A male otter is called a dog, a female is a bitch, and the young whelp, pup or kit.
- Otters sometimes sleep above ground in a ‘couch’ (den). However they predominantly reside in underground ‘holts’. These are chambers dug out of the river bank or cavities under riverside tree roots. They also have their young in the holts.
- A male otter can patrol up to 21km of river and leave ‘spraints’ (faeces) in prominent places such as under bridges, on large stones, on fallen trees to mark the territory.
- Otter spraints have a pleasant sweet musky smell, whereas those of mink are unpleasant and often slightly fishy. Over 100 different scent components of otter dropping have been identified. About 17 of these are thought to contain information on sex, age and even individual recognition, which can be used by other otters.
- Otters make a variety of different vocalisations – they include a high-pitched whistle between a mother and her cubs, twittering noises produced during play-fighting, and cat-like noises when fighting.
- Otters have many long, stiff sensitive hairs (‘vibrassae’) that frame the snout: these help the otter to locate prey.
- Otters have webbed feet and claws – for swimming underwater. They can also close their small ears and nose when under water.
- Otters can dive as deep as 14m under the surface and spend 4-6 hours a day in water foraging. They are fast and agile swimmers who have a silvery appearance when underwater due to bubbles of air being trapped in their fur.
- Although the otter is an exceptionally good swimmer and fish catcher, it can only hold its breath for 20 seconds as it dives for its prey.
- Otters are the only amphibious members of the weasel family.
- Otters are playful, intelligent and inquisitive animals who are often seen enjoying themselves sliding around on muddy banks or in snow.
- Otters tend to live alone, except during mating and for a short time after the cubs are born. The young will stay with the mother for approximately 13-15 months.
- Mother otters teach the cubs how to hunt by catching live fish and releasing them for the cubs to chase and re-catch.
- Otter numbers in the UK have increased slightly in recent years but the Eurasian otter is still classed as “Vulnerable” in the Red Data List.
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