These adorable aquatic mammals are clever, chatty, and oddly aromatic.
Only one otter species seems to be thriving, and that's the North American River Otter. The other 12 otter species were recently identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having decreasing populations, and five otter species are already on the endangered list. Among the endangered are the sea otters along the Californian to Alaskan coasts, which are threatened by "environmental pollutants and disease agents." Others, like the marine otters of South America, have had their numbers reduced because of poaching, as well as environmental concerns.
2. ZOROASTRIANS THOUGHT THE OTTERS TO BE NEARLY SACRED CREATURES.
This ancient religion considered otters to be the dogs of the river or sea and had strict rules forbidding the killing of otters. It was thought that otters helped keep water purified by eating already dead creatures that might contaminate the water source if they were allowed to rot. Zoroastrians would also hold ceremonies for otters found dead in the wild.
Otters use their dung—known as spraint—to communicate with other otters. The mammals like to keep things organized within their communities and will designate certain areas to be used as latrines. Spraint scents can vary, but often are (relatively) pleasant—one expert described them as not "dissimilar to jasmine tea." Spraint composition is unique to each otter, and the creatures can identify each other by the smells. Scientists suspect otters may even be able to determine the sex, age, and reproductive status of the spraint dropper just from a quick whiff. And since otters have superb metabolisms and can easily eat up to 15 percent of their body weight each day, there's a lot of spraint to go around.
4. OTTER MOMS ARE TOTALLY GAME FOR ADOPTION.
In 2001, a female otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium gave birth to a stillborn pup on the same day a stranded pup was discovered in the wild nearby. The aquarium staff had previously tried raising pups themselves but found that hand-raised otters became too attached to humans to be released back into the wild. So instead, they dropped the pup in with the female otter, and she immediately went into mom mode. The aquarium has since devised a system of hand-rearing pups for the first six to eight weeks—mostly for bottle feeding purposes—before handing the pups off to female otters for raising. At six months, the pups are released back into the wild with generally strong results.
Otters can have up to one million hairs per square inch. There are two layers of fur—an undercoat and then longer hairs that we can see. The layers manage to trap air next to the otter's skin, which keeps the otters dry and warm and also helps with buoyancy. Otter pups have so much air trapped in there, they actually can’t dive under water, even if they want to.
6. AN OTTER IS SOMETIMES ONLY AS GOOD AS HIS TOOLS.
Otters love to eat shelled animals, like clams, but they aren't equipped with the strength to open their food without some help. Therefore, they are big on tools and will often use rocks to help crack into dinner. While they hunt for food underwater, they’ll often store a rock in the skin under their arms for later use.
Some tribes consider the otter to be a lucky animal and a symbol of "loyalty and honesty." But some, particularly in present-day Canada and Alaska, viewed the river otter "with awe and dread" and associated the creatures with the undead and drowning. Some cultures even forbid eating the creatures and were offended when colonial Europeans began hunting the river otters and selling their furs.
8. GIANT OTTERS ARE SUPER CHATTY.
In 2014, a study of giant otters found that the river-dwellers have 22 distinct noises they make for different situations. On top of that, pups have 11 of their own calls that they intersperse with "infant babbling." Among the most notable calls: a "hum gradation" used to tell otters to change directions and a "Hah!" shout when a threat is nearby.
In Bangladesh, otters help fisherman maximize their haul. For centuries, fisherman have been training otters to act as herders and chase large schools of fish into the nets.
10. DRONES MAY HELP SCIENTISTS BETTER STUDY OTTERS IN THE WILD.
Keeping an eye on otters in the wild is a tricky task. In the past, observers have usually set up telescopes on shore to try and monitor otters at sea. Otters won't act naturally with humans nearby, and using a telescope on a boat can get tricky in the rollicking ocean. But now, scientists are using unmanned drones with cameras to get an aerial look at otters in their element, making it easier to monitor the creatures as they dive for food and go about their day.
Or a family or a raft. Otter groups go by a few different monikers, all of which are fairly unique to that crew. Generally, a group of otters on land will go by a romp, while a group hanging in the water is called a raft.
12. OTTERS ARE BIG ON PLAY TIME, AND MAKING SLIDES IS AMONG THEIR FAVORITE GAMES.
Otter families are usually limited to pups and their mothers, and these duos will spend most of their time either feeding or sleeping. In the downtime, though, otters love to play and will often build themselves slides along the banks of rivers.
Once thought to be gone from the area completely, southern sea otters—known as California sea otters—have been making a comeback in recent years. But with their numbers hovering around just a few thousand, researchers have kept a close eye on the population and their studies have revealed an interesting social structure. The otters, which need to consume 25 percent to 35 percent of their body weight every day in order to maintain their metabolism and keep themselves warm in the cool waters, are divided into three "dietary guilds": Deep-diving otters that dine on abalone, urchins, and Dungeness crab; medium divers who subsist on clams, worms, and smaller shellfish; and those that stay in shallower waters, feeding on black snails.
14. A ZOOLOGIST WHO WAS STRANDED AFTER A SHIPWRECK WAS THE FIRST TO DESCRIBE SEA OTTERS.
German zoologist and botanist Georg Wilhelm Steller was the first to scientifically describe numerous new animals on the 1741 explorative voyage from Russia. Aboard the St. Peter, Steller and other 18th-century explorers crash-landed on modern-day Bering Island after getting separated from its sister ship. Over the course of a rough winter, he meticulously documented many species, and while some have since gone extinct (like a sea-cow he described that was hunted into extinction), the adorable otter was among his initial discoveries.
A mother will often wrap the babies in kelp to keep them in one place while she hunts. Or, she might rely on human resources and otter ingenuity to find a makeshift "playpen" for her pup.
16. THEIR BEHAVIOR ISN'T ALWAYS ADORABLE.
Like many animals, otters sometimes behave in ways that aren't exactly within the bounds of what humans would consider morally acceptable. Even if you find them otherwise adorable, otters' mating habits will no doubt make your stomach turn.
Male otters' mating techniques are violent. They bite their female partner's face during copulation to keep her from slipping away, leaving her with substantial facial wounds. It's not uncommon for female otters to die as a result of these aggressive encounters, either through drowning or from their wounds becoming infected. Male otters have also been known to violently copulate with other species—most notably, baby seals [PDF]. The behavior doesn't stop when the seals die from the trauma. Otters have been known to guard and have sex with the bodies of their victims for up to seven days after they've died.
Scientists hypothesize that these seemingly counterproductive mating habits might be the result of a population imbalance. In California's Monterey Bay, where scientists observed otters trying to copulate with the week-old bodies of dead baby seals, there are far more male otters than females. Facing a lack of female partners, male otters may be engaging in what researchers call "misdirected sexual activity." The area in the bay where the scientists observed the most otter-on-seal mating sessions was also where there was a high population of transient male otters, ones that, unlike more dominant males, don't have an established territory filled with potential mates. In the absence of females of their own kind, then, they turned their typical sexual responses toward the seals. Nature, unfortunately, isn't always pretty.
A version of this story originally ran in 2015.
Otters are incredibly social
Otters are well known for their playfulness and sense of curiosity. Playing together helps keep family bonds strong and teaches the pups important skills such as how to find food.
Their fur contains between 600,000 to 1,000,000 hair follicles per square inch. Unlike most other marine mammals, otters lack a blubber layer. Instead, they depend on their dense, water-resistant fur to provide insulation. To keep warm, sea otters spend a large portion of their days grooming and conditioning their fur.Do otters have fun? ›
The river otter is, without any doubt, the most playful wild animal in North America. Virtually everything they do, from "sliding" down a convenient snow or mud-covered bank to swimming after a tasty fish dinner, is always done with great gusto. They appear to be naturally good tempered much of the time.What do otters do for fun? ›
River otters are especially playful, gamboling on land and splashing into rivers and streams. They learn to swim when they are about two months old, when their mother pushes them into the water.Do otters play fight? ›
River otters defend their territories by marking, scratching, and occasionally fighting. Male river otters ignore females and young through most of the year. Giant otters are more social than river otters, but separate groups tend to avoid each other.Do otters like to cuddle? ›
Otters are social animals, they want and need much attention. Next to the cute and adorable part, when they cuddle and groom, there is also a much more annoying way they scream for your attention. And that happens on the moments you don't want it to happen.Why do otters hug? ›
In this article, I look into why otters hold hands with each other. Sea otters hold hands to stop drifting apart and losing each other while sleeping in the water. Otters fear losing their mate to another male while sleeping. Holding hands helps protect them from predators as they group away from land.What are 5 interesting facts about sea otters? ›
Sea otter fur is the densest of any mammal at about 1 million hairs per square inch (We have 100,000 hairs on our entire head). Wild sea otters typically have a lifespan between 15 and 20 years. Average weight of an adult female California sea otter is about 50 lbs. Males can weigh up to 70 lbs.Are otters loyal? ›
While most otters are promiscuous, some pairs of river otters stay monogamous and may sometimes mate for life. Some remain monogamous only in the breeding season. That said, other species such as the North American river otters are strictly polygynous.Are otters smart? ›
River Otters are very intelligent and curious animals. They have well developed hearing and sense of smell. They spend most of their day foraging and exploring their home range. They are active day and night all year long but tend to be more nocturnal in high disturbance areas.
Nicole Duplaix, who chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Otter Specialist Group, said otters are known for being friendly animals, but, like most other creatures, keep their distance from humans.Do otters clap? ›
So, even for wild sea otters, “clapping” may play a useful role in both grooming their fur and preparing their food.What's a fun fact for the day? ›
- It is impossible for most people to lick their own elbow. ...
- A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.
- A shrimp's heart is in its head.
- It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.
Sea otters rub their faces to groom their fur; driving out moisture, adding air, and spreading natural oils secreted by their skin.How much time do otters spend playing? ›
Bundled in the densest fur on the planet, otters rarely leave ocean or estuary during their 10 to 20 years of life. Otters spend five hours per day grooming and playing.Do otters carry a rock? ›
The palms have tough pads that help with gripping. Under each forearm are baggy pockets of loose skin. The sea otter uses these pockets to store food it has gathered. It also stores favorite rocks that it uses for cracking open mollusks and clams.Can otter be eaten? ›
Sea otter meat is delicious. They eat all the good stuff, so you can expect them to taste delicious as well. I eat some of the meat, but I give much of it away to elders in the community.Are otters lazy? ›
Otters certainly aren't Beavers!
Lazy? Let's just say easily distracted. Life has so many diversions for the otter that it's impossible to predict how it will fill its day. But when an otter gets focused on a problem, its keen intelligence rises to the challenge and it won't give up until the last nut is cracked.
Whether it's in the wild, at a zoo, or an animal sanctuary, the little creatures have often been seen playing with rocks — throwing them into the air and skillfully catching them, or rolling the rocks around their necks. Now, researchers believe they know why otters do this: they're excited about food.Why do otters roll in dirt? ›
Otters must clean their fur often to retain its water-repellent qualities. They do this by rolling or rubbing on sand, grass or snow.
Although Willett has not studied otters specifically, anecdotally she said she has seen them play and bond with each other and humans. They kind of remind her of how dogs love, Willett said. So yes, Willett said she believes otters do feel love.Why do otters kiss? ›
Yes, otters kiss as they are affectionate in nature. They are not afraid to show how much they care for each other. The sea otters also hold each other's hands while they sleep on their backs in the ocean to protect each other. Kissing is a way to show that they care for each other.Are otters friendly pets? ›
They aren't easily housetrained and they're very active, social animals. Keeping an otter as a solitary pet can make them very sad. Not having enough entertainment or putting stress on your pet otter can also lead to destructive, aggressive behavior. Living in captivity is simply not a good life for an otter.Why do otters play with rocks? ›
Study says they may be expressing excitement for dinner. A study from researchers in the United Kingdom found otters may juggle rocks in anticipation of eating, but also as a brain teaser to keep their minds sharp.Do otters like ice? ›
Unlike most humans, sea otters actually like getting cold feet. In fact, their ice consumption is so high, Den Blå Planet has decked out the otter enclosure with their very own ice-cube machine, so they always have a cold treat at hand.How strong are otters? ›
Sea otters have highly specialized skulls and teeth that allow them to pierce through the tough exoskeletons of sea urchins, and pry open clams. We found that their short, blunt skulls and flat, fracture-resistant teeth allow them to generate high bite forces for their body size (nearly 80lbs of force!).What is an otter for kids? ›
Otters are mammals that live in and around water. Unlike most other animals, otters are playful even as adults. They like to slide down riverbanks and in snow. Otters are found throughout Africa, North and South America, Europe, and Asia.How long can an otter hold its breath? ›
How long can a river otter hold its breath? More than 4 minutes, with some estimates reaching as high as 8 minutes.Are otters aggressive? ›
Otters live near lakes or ponds and burrow in ditches, so interaction with people can occur. With their sweet appearance and playful nature, it may seem impossible that otters are dangerous. However, otters can be aggressive when necessary. The animals sometimes even hunt snakes to supplement their usual diet of fish.Are otters aggressive? ›
Otters live near lakes or ponds and burrow in ditches, so interaction with people can occur. With their sweet appearance and playful nature, it may seem impossible that otters are dangerous. However, otters can be aggressive when necessary. The animals sometimes even hunt snakes to supplement their usual diet of fish.
River Otters are very intelligent and curious animals. They have well developed hearing and sense of smell. They spend most of their day foraging and exploring their home range. They are active day and night all year long but tend to be more nocturnal in high disturbance areas.Do otters make good pets? ›
They aren't easily housetrained and they're very active, social animals. Keeping an otter as a solitary pet can make them very sad. Not having enough entertainment or putting stress on your pet otter can also lead to destructive, aggressive behavior. Living in captivity is simply not a good life for an otter.What do river otters like to play? ›
Sliding and wrestling, belly flopping, and somersaulting, river otters really know how to play! They take advantage of any slippery slope for fun, whether it's a summer slide down a muddy hill or a winter thrill on snow and ice. They glide on their bellies with their front paws by their sides.Do otters cuddle? ›
Otters are social animals, they want and need much attention. Next to the cute and adorable part, when they cuddle and groom, there is also a much more annoying way they scream for your attention. And that happens on the moments you don't want it to happen.How strong is an otters bite? ›
We found that their short, blunt skulls and flat, fracture-resistant teeth allow them to generate high bite forces for their body size (nearly 80lbs of force!). These high bite forces allow them to eat otherwise hard-to-crack marine invertebrates.Can you eat an otter? ›
Otter Meat is dark red, fine grained, moist and tender, and when properly prepared, is similar in flavour to roast pork. It is usually slow-cooked in a broth, and was a valuable food source to Native Americans.Do otters like humans? ›
Nicole Duplaix, who chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Otter Specialist Group, said otters are known for being friendly animals, but, like most other creatures, keep their distance from humans.What is otter favorite food? ›
The Otters Diet and Feeding
The staple diet of our native otter in the wild is fish (with eels being particularly favoured in the summer), frogs, small birds and eggs. Small mammals may also be eaten. Its not only the abundance of a particular food source that is important but also how easy it is to catch.
Dolphins get a lot of attention for their smarts. They've long been lauded as one of the world's most intelligent animals. But new research suggests that sea otters may have outsmarted them — at least in the handiness department.Why are otters cute? ›
Otters are so fluffy, indeed having the thickest fur of any mammal! They have a million hairs per square inch, that's about if you took all the hairs on your head and put them on one square inch, now cover the otter's entire body with that. So fluffy and adorable!!
Otters do not naturally live with animals like cats and dogs, and they would not normally live alongside humans, so they can become aggressive when kept in a house or apartment, and this is especially true if they are kept in an enclosure that is too small or in conditions that are not suitable.How much is a pet otter? ›
Question: How much does a pet otter cost? Answer: Since pet otters are rare, a dealer has a lot of leeway when naming their price. Expect to pay at least $3000; it could also be a lot higher. This species is not for beginners.Do otters play games? ›
If asked to choose one word that describes the river otter, most experts would choose "playful." Extremely social animals, river otters can often be seen in groups playing games. They also love to run and slide on their stomachs.Where do otters play? ›
The Evansville Otters are a professional baseball team based in Evansville, Indiana. They compete in the West Division of the independent Frontier League. Since their establishment in 1995, the Otters have played at historic Bosse Field, which originally opened in 1915.How much time do otters spend playing? ›
Bundled in the densest fur on the planet, otters rarely leave ocean or estuary during their 10 to 20 years of life. Otters spend five hours per day grooming and playing.