Short limbs, webbed feet and claws - Sensitive whiskers around snout to help detect prey - 2 layers of fur: a thick waterproof outer one and a warm inner one.
The Eurasian Otter has an acute sense of sight, smell and hearing. The eyes are placed high on the head so that it can see when the rest of the body is below water.
Although the otter is an exceptionally good swimmer and fish catcher, it cannot hold its breath for long and the average dive is about 30 seconds. FACT: Otters are the only truly semi-aquatic members of the weasel family
Throughout Europe and Asia from Ireland in the west as far as eastern Russia and China. They are also found in north Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Iran). However, numbers in Russia and most of Asia are unknown. The otter in Japan was officially declared extinct in 2012 but the government are currently looking into the possibility of a reintroduction programme. Extinct in Belgium and Switzerland, although one or two animals have been recorded in Switzerland but probably from unauthorised releases and escapees. Re-introduced to the Netherlands.
There are many factors that contribute to making the otter's life very
hazardous. These include habitat destruction, both on land i.e. the building of
roads and the loss of previously undisturbed riverbank systems, and in the water
(particularly in the sea, as otters may be caught in fishing nets where they can
Traffic injuries also pose considerable problems for otters, as new roads are
built through their previously tranquil homesteads.
Pollution from pesticides, PCBs, mercury and oil can all be severely damaging to
the otter's health, when found in traditionally clean streams. Research by Cardiff University published in 2013 reported that pollutants may now be effecting the reproductive system of males which obviously has serious implications for breeding.
But by far the greatest threat in our area is the risk of an oil spill. The
Minch waters between Skye and the Outer Hebrides is still a major oil tanker
route and it is argued by many that a spillage is just waiting to happen. The
Exxon Valdez killed thousands of sea otters and otters were also effected by the
Braer disaster in Shetland.
Otters communicate using vocal expression such as whistles,
birdlike twittering and spitting. They can also communicate using spraint. 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 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
Although otter cubs can be born at any time of the year, we find there is a definite preference for spring and again in late autumn. On average 2-3 cubs are born, weighing only 40g, covered in a pale grey fur and with closed eyes. Otter Holts are lined with grass, reeds , twigs and other vegetation They develop slowly and the eyes will open in five weeks. At seven weeks they will start to run and take solid food. It is at this time that they will venture out of the holt to toilet outside but they will not go much further until they are 10 weeks old and they are fully weaned at 14 weeks.
Strangely enough, young otters are not natural swimmers and the fluffy coat of
the young makes it difficult, so they are often dragged into the water by the
mother at 16 weeks old. They learn quickly and soon catch their own food.
However they are still dependent on Mum and will stay with her for over a year,
on many occasions even up to 15 months.
The juvenile cubs will start to disperse at 14 to 15 months and venture into new areas to find their own territories. Survival in the harsh environment on their own is very difficult as they try to find a territory and good feeding grounds.
Mating takes place at anything from 17-20 months and the male picks up the scent of the female in season and goes looking for her. The two otters chase each other along the shore, disappearing into the sea and diving, swimming and rolling together before mating takes place. The male often stays close to the female for.about a week before venturing on to pastures new.
Otter Runs can be found going inland from the coast with sprainted deposits at various points along them.
Otter Tracks, unlike dogs, have a fifth claw part way up the leg, the otter has five toe marks with clear webbing
To survive in the wild, however, is not easy, particularly for a Carnivore and the otter will be lucky to reach the age of 4. However, there have been instances of otters living from 8-12 years, although possibly only one or two in a hundred will survive until this sort of age.
Distribution of the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)
Data based on Otters of the World (IOSF 2015)
Although widespread in distribution, there is almost no data on populations outside Europe so the situation in the vast part of their range in unknown.
The International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) is one of the world's leading otter charities. In the UK IOSF is the only charity solely dedicated to the conservation, protection and care of otters based on over 20 years of scientific research in the UK and around the world.
Charity No SC003875, United States Registered 501(c)(3) Non-profit organisation Tax ID 43-1634280