Otter

Otter - Otter
The Eurasian Otter, also known as the European Otter, Eurasian River Otter, Common Otter and Old World Otter and commonly known as the Otter, is a semi-aquatic mammal and the most widely distributed member of the Otter sub-family of the Weasel family (Mustelidae).

The Otter is a typical species of the Otter sub-family and is brown above and cream below. It is 22.5 to 37.5 inches long excluding a tail of 14 to 17.5 inches. The female is shorter than the male. The Otter's average body weight is 15 to 26 pounds, although occasionally a large old male may reach up to 37 pounds.

The Otter differs from the North American River Otter by its shorter neck, broader face, the greater space between the ears and its longer tail. However, it is the only Otter species in much of its range so it is rarely confused for any other animal.

The Otter is the most widely distributed Otter species and its range including parts of Asia and Africa as well as being widespread across Europe.

The Otter can be found throughout most of the UK with the highest densities in Scotland, especially the islands and the north west coast, Wales, parts of East Anglia and the West Country.

The Otter declined across its range in the second half of the 20th century primarily due to pollution, habitat loss and hunting. However, populations are now recovering in many parts of Europe. In the UK the number of sites with an Otter presence increased by 55% between 1994 and 2002. In August 2011, the Environment Agency announced that the Otter had returned to every county in England since vanishing from every county except the West Country and parts of Northern England. The recovery of the Otter population in Europe is due to a ban on the most harmful pesticides that has been in place since 1979, improvements in water quality leading to increases in prey populations and direct legal protection under the European Union Habitats Directive and national legislation in several European countries.

In general, the Otter’s varied and adaptable diet means that it can be found on any unpolluted body of fresh water, including lakes, streams, rivers and ponds, as long as the food supply is adequate. It can also be found along the coast in salt water but it requires regular access to fresh water to clean its fur. When living in the sea it is sometimes referred to as a "Sea Otter" but it should not be confused with the true Sea Otter which is a North American species much more strongly adapted to a marine existence.

The Otter's diet mainly consists of fish. However, during the winter and in colder environments, fish consumption is significantly lower and other sources of food are eaten including amphibians, crustaceans, insects, birds and small mammals. Hunting mainly takes place at night whilst the day is usually spent in the Otter's holt (den).

The Otter is strongly territorial and is primarily solitary. An individual's territory may vary between 1 and 25 miles with the length of the territory depending on the density of food available and the width of the water suitable for hunting (it is shorter on coasts, where the available width is much wider and longer on narrower rivers). The Otter uses its spraints to mark its territory. Territories are only held against members of the same sex so those of males and females may overlap.

The Otter is a non-seasonal breeder and males and females will breed at any time of the year. It has been found that their mating season is most likely determined simply by the Otters' reproductive maturity and physiological state. Female Otters are sexually mature between 18 and 24 months old and the average age of first breeding is found to be 2.5 years old. Gestation is 60 to 64 days and after the gestation period, 1 to 4 pups are born which remain dependent on the mother for about 13 months. The male plays no direct role in parental care although the territory of a female with her pups is usually entirely within that of the male.

Date: 16th September 2011

Location: British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

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