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Otter-like animals have inhabited the earth for the last 30 million years and over the years have undergone subtle changes to the carnivore bodies to exploit the rich aquatic environment.

Otters are members of the Mustelid family which includes badgers, polecats, martens, weasels, stoats and mink.

You can find out more about each of the 13 species below and check out their current conservation status in the Red Data List.

You can find out more about each species in “Otters of the World” available at the Ottershop.

World of Otters

Our interactive map of otter locations around the world.

Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis)

SIZE 1.8m
DIET Fish mostly Characins, Catfish and Perch. Will also take amphibians
GESTATION 9-10 weeks
CITES Appendix I

Photo: Phil Perry

This is one of the largest of the carnivores in South America with an overall length of up to 2 meters and weighing 32kg.  The fur is a chocolate brown colour with a yellowish throat patch.

They live in large rivers and secluded forest creeks with plenty of bankside vegetation which they clear to make their rest places. These tend to be very conspicuous and are marked with spraints by both male and female. They use these sites to groom and roll in the mud and develop a family scent which separates them from others.

Giant Otters feed predominantly on fish, mainly characins (primitive fish related to pirhanas, which make up over 50% of the diet) as well as catfish and perch. They will, however, also take frogs, anacondas and small caimans.

Females use dens to give birth to their cubs and it is believed that there is no seasonality in breeding. However it was found that in Surinam births did occur at the beginning of the dry season. After a 9-10 week gestation between 1-3 cubs are born. Just three weeks later the otter cubs are put in the water by their mother and by 13 weeks they are swimming and fishing by themselves.

They live in family groups sometimes reaching up to 20 animals, and the cubs stay with their parents until they are sexually mature. The otters are active during the day fishing and making loud whistles to themselves and the home range of the group may reach up to 12km.

Being diurnal and living in social groups Giant Otters are vulnerable to man's destruction. Largely as a result of hunting the Giant Otter is now classed as seriously endangered in Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela. Unfortunately it is already extinct in Uruguay and Argentina. It is only widespread in Surinam and Guyana – see further information on IOSF’s 2019 workshop in Guyana

Distribution of the Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis)

Data based on Otters of the World (IOSF 2017) which is available at the Otter shop.