If you’re at all like me, you’re a sucker for anything having to do with otters. Canvas prints, t-shirts, pillows, rugs, cups – you name it, and there’s a picture plastered to it of an adorable otter with a cheeky grin and big ol’ feet. But what many of us don’t realize is there are quite a few different otter species (some objectively cuter than others) and, like so many other creatures on Earth, they face possible extinction due to overzealous hunting. Let’s get to know the 13 different otter species.
Found in South America, mostly in the Amazon River and the Pantanal, the Giant Otter is classified as endangered, and is the longest member of the weasel family, reaching up to 5.6 feet in length. Family groups can include up to eight members. The giant otter is also the noisiest otter species.
Currently listed as a vulnerable species, Oriental Small-Clawed Otters (or Asian Small-Clawed Otters) live in mangrove swamps and freshwater wetlands in Bangladesh, Burma, India, southern China, Taiwan, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is the smallest otter species in the world.
The African Clawless Otter is also known as the Cape Clawless Otter or Groot Otter. They are found near permanent bodies of water in Savannah and lowland forest areas of Africa. Though they are mostly solitary, African Clawless Otters can live in family groups of up to five otters.
European Otters are the most widely distributed of the otter species, and can be found in parts of Asia, Africa, and across Europe. They go by many names, including the Eurasian Otter, Eurasian River Otter, Common Otter, and Old World Otter. Currently, they are classified as a near threatened species.
Until 1998, it was believed that the Hairy-Nosed Otter was extinct. We have since discovered small populations of this otter species in Southeast Asia, and its conservation status is now listed as endangered, though continued hunting and habitat loss are further threatening the species.
Once widespread throughout Japan, the last official sighting of the Japanese Otter was in 1979 in Kochi Prefecture. In 2012, it was listed as an extinct species. However, in 2013, eyewitnesses reported seeing Japanese Otters in Aichi Prefecture. Time will tell if these sightings hold any merit.
Listed as an endangered species, not much is known about the Marine Otter. They inhabit mostly the coastal regions of southwestern South America and spend most of their time out of the water, choosing rocky shorelines with lots of seaweed and kelp. They are also small, with an adult weighing up to 12.8 pounds.
Neotropical River Otters live in Central and South America, as well as Trinidad. Though their habitat overlaps with Giant Otters, research has shown there is not much competition for food between the two species. At this time, there is not enough data available about the Neotropical River Otter to determine a conservation status.
The North American River Otter lives in and along the coasts and waterways of North America. Adults can weigh between 11 and 31 pounds, and their coveted thick, water-repellent fur has led to over-hunting. River Otters are also highly susceptible to environmental pollution. For these reasons, there have been many reintroduction projects to stabilize the River Otter population.
Living along the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean, Sea Otters are listed as an endangered species. They are the heaviest of the weasel family, with adults weighing up to almost 100 pounds. Their fur is also the densest of the entire animal kingdom.
Smooth-Coated Otters are a vulnerable species living in areas of India and Southeast Asia. They populate wetlands, seasonal swamps, rivers, lakes, and rice paddies. As with other otter species, their biggest threat comes from poachers and habitat loss.
Inhabiting marine and freshwater environments, the Southern River Otter calls Chile and Argentina home. Males usually live alone, while females and their young often live together. Their current endangered status is due in large part to vigorous hunting for their pelts, which still occurs illegally in Argentina and legally in Chile.
Also known as the Speckle-Throated Otter, this otter species can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. Their fur can range from red to brown with cream or white spots on the chest and throat. There is no evidence that they have ever gone into salt water.
Now that you know your otter species, you can spread the word about these beautiful animals and the need to do whatever we can to keep them around indefinitely.
Do you have a favorite species of otter? Have you ever seen an otter in the wild?