|Researched by||Chloe Wilson||Refereed by||Admin|
|Other common names||-||Synonyms||-|
The Eurasian river otter is a member of the weasel family with a long lithe body, short legs and a thick tail. Its streamlined shape and webbed feet make it an agile swimmer. The amphibious lifestyle of the otter is aided by its ability to close its small ears and nose and a thick coat of short fur, which insulates the animal by trapping a layer of air. The coat is predominantly brown, with a paler underside. Adults can reach up to 1.1 m in length weighing 7 – 12 kg. They are considered shy and elusive animals, however, their playful side is revealed through games of catch with pebbles. The Eurasian river otter requires access to water for feeding where it can be seen swimming low in the water with only the ears, eyes and nose visible above the surface. They also need terrestrial areas for resting and breeding. Therefore, they can be found in a variety of semi-aquatic habitats from lakes and rivers to estuaries and salt marshes.
The Eurasian river otter has been recorded all over the UK, with most of the population residing in Scotland. Particularly important otter habitats are the coasts and islands of western Scotland and Shetland.
The Eurasian river otter is widely distributed, spanning three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. In Europe, its distribution stretches from central Denmark in the west, via west Germany, the Netherlands, western France to Spain. It is also recorded from most of Scandinavia and southern Italy. However, it is extinct or reduced to isolated subpopulations in a corridor stretching from central Denmark, via the western parts of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the eastern parts of France, Switzerland, the western parts of Austria to central Italy. Russia bridges the gap between Europe and Asia, with otter populations observed in most of the country excluding the tundra and areas of permafrost in the North. It is also found from the Near and Middle East into South Asia, where otters are reported in almost all countries particularly the Himalayan river systems. Its range extends east through South-East Asia ending before Japan where it is likely extinct. In Africa, the Eurasian River Otter population spans Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Eurasian river otters are found near lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters in home ranges that extend over tens of kilometres. Coastal populations are observed feeding in the shallows, where they hunt primarily for fish. However, these colonies are never fully marine as the otters require fresh water for grooming salt from the fur and terrestrial habitats for breeding and resting. During the day the otters reside in holts (underground dens) that can be dug into tree root systems and river banks, while those on the coast may be sheltered by piles of boulders.
The Eurasian river otter is a solitary animal, with adults only tending to associate with one another for reproduction. If a small number of otters are observed together, the group will typically comprise an adult female with cub(s). A mother will feed a cub until approximately 4 months old, but the cub may remain associated with the mother for up to 12 months.
The Eurasian river otter suffered a rapid decline in the 1950s caused the effective loss of most of the English population by 1980, whilst in Scotland, the population experienced only a small decline. Since then, evidence suggests a recovering population in all parts of the UK, although Scotland is still likely to host the largest population (> 77% of total population in 2004; JNCC, 2007).
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Last Updated: 11/12/2017
Tags: Eurasian river otter Lutra lutra