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About Otters

otter and badgerThe Otter (Lutra lutra) is a member of the weasel family (Mustelids) with an amphibious lifestyle. In the wild they are elusive, secretive animals and live in undisturbed rivers, streams and estuaries. In the early 1960’s they were on the verge of extinction due to river pollution, habitat loss and hunting. Now with full legal protection, cleaner rivers and managed habitat it is returning to its former haunts, although its distribution will always be limited by the availability of fish.

Appearance:
otterHead/body length: 60 - 120 cm; tail 40 - 45 cm. Brown fur, often pale underside, long slender streamlined body, small ears, long thick tail and webbed feet. The eyes and nostrils are high on its head, so that it can see and breathe when the rest of its body is submerged. The small ears have valves which close against water pressure. Their big whiskers, ‘vibrissae’, probably help it to find food in dark water.

Due to large feet with webbing between the toes (especially on females) and a thick tail, an otter can swim at speeds approaching one metre per second, which is around 2mph.

Have thick fur, an outer coat which keeps dry and a layer of finer fur which keeps them warm.

ottersDiet:
An adult dog otter may eat 1-1.5kg of fish per day and can weigh up to 10-11kg (which is 30% heavier than the female.) Usually they bring their food (mostly fish, but also frogs, mammals and waterside birds) ashore and eat it by holding it in its forepaws.

Breeding:
The male and female otters live separately and come together only for mating. The male otter is called a dog and the female a bitch. They breed when they are about 2 years old and females are pregnant for about 9 weeks with litters of 2 or 3. Cubs do not get their adult coat until they are about 2 or 3 months old. Cubs leave their mothers when they are about 18 months old and can live up to 10 years although very few reach this age. It is hard to know, but it is thought that on average otters live 1-2 years. Studies have suggested that up to a third die in their first year and a lot die in their second year but once they pass their second birthday the mortality rate decreases significantly.

otterCharacteristics:
Can reduce their heartbeats when swimming underwater which will reduce the amount of oxygen that they need and they have large lungs. They can stay under water for as long as 4 minutes, but most dives last less than a minute. Can focus their eyes in such a way that they can see underwater and use their stiff whiskers to feel their way along muddy river beds where visibility is poor and help them detect prey.

Due to large feet with webbing between the toes (especially on females) and a thick tail, an otter can swim at speeds approaching one metre per second, which is around 2mph.

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