Otter

©Danny Green/2020VISION

European otter

Scientific name: Lutra lutra
The sinuous otter is an excellent swimmer and can be seen hunting in wetlands, rivers and along the coast - try the west coast of Scotland, West Wales, the West Country or East Anglia for the best views.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 60-80cm
Tail: 32-56cm
Weight: 6-8kg
Average lifespan: 5-10 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. European Protected Species under Annex IV of the European Habitats Directive. Listed as Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When to see

January to December

About

The elusive otter is one of our top predators, feeding mainly on fish (particularly eels and salmonids), waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans. Otters have their cubs in underground burrows, known as 'holts'. Excellent and lithe swimmers, the young are in the water by 10 weeks of age. Otters are well suited to a life on the water as they have webbed feet, dense fur to keep them warm, and can close their ears and nose when underwater. They require clean rivers, with an abundant source of food and plenty of vegetation to hide their secluded holts.

How to identify

The otter is a large, powerful mammal, with grey-brown fur, a broad snout, and a pale chest and throat. Otters can be distinguished from mink by their much larger size and broader face.

Distribution

A rare but widespread species, now found throughout the country but absent from parts of central and southern England, the Isle of Man, the Isles of Scilly and the Channel Islands.

Did you know?

Seeing the signs of otters is far easier than seeing the animals themselves. Along riverbanks and waterways, look for five-toed footprints (about 6-7cm long) and droppings or 'spraints'. Otters leave spraints in prominent places, such as fallen trees, weirs and bridges, as 'scented messages', helping them to find mates and defend territories. They contain visible fish bones and have a distinctive, pleasant smell, reminiscent of Jasmine tea!

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.