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Friday, November 18, 2016

NUTRIA - THE OTTER


Otter (Lutra lutra) Captive
Photo from: Fly~catcher


L. Lutra lutra OE otor, Eng. Eurasian otter. With the exception of Australia and the Antarctica, the otter has lived everywhere else in the world during the last 30 million years. Of the 13 species still surviving, the most common in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia is the Eurasian otters. In general, they reside around streams, rivers and lakes in holts, a type of den with a private entrance into the water. As natives of Great Britain, they live in fresh and salt water on the coasts of Scotland and in freshwater pools in the Shetlands.

Before water pollution reached its height in Spain, they inhabited areas adjacent to streams in the Catalonia, Aragon, Basque Country, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa, Asturias, Galicia, León, Castile, Estremadura, western Andalusia, Almeria and Murcia.

Baby Otter
Photo from: Hermes Rios
Otters have been noted to be the first ecologists as they will not go near any polluted water. They are semi-aquatic carnivorous mammals with milk glands. They are unique, being the only marine mammals with waterproof fur on top and an undercoat providing insulation instead of blubber. The coats are a glossy chestnut brown on the back with a white patch on the throat, in many cases, and lighter underneath.  When the otter dives underwater, the ears and nostrils are closed off and are concealed almost completely by the coat. Their whiskers are sensing organs that monitor the movements of their prey. Their appendages enhance their swimming ability such as webbed feet with five toes and small claws and a rudder-like tail almost two feet long that is used for propulsion in the water. On land, they use rocks to pry open mollusks shells. They are about three feet long and weigh no more than 35 lbs.

They rest in their holts during the day. At dusk, these nocturnal animals start to become active. They are solitary, except during mating season, which can be any time of year. Gestation takes a little over two months after which two or three blind babies, covered with gray or dark downy fur are born. They open their eyes a little after a month and continue living in a nest made of weeds or straw and nurse for a total of two to three months. They live as a family for about a year. Adulthood is reached between two and three years. Their lifespan is some 10-14 years.

Otter holt
Photo from: Stuart Brabbs
Otters eat fowl, particularly water birds, and invertebrates, especially fresh water crayfish, fish, frogs and occasionally insects. Not only do otters appear to be brighter than their cousins, the badgers, minks, ferrets and weasels, they are among the most playful animals. In the 13th C St. Albert the Great noted their capacity to play. They love sliding through the snow and down muddy banks like children. From time immemorial until the 1970’s when the otter began to run the risk of extinction, man has hunted them for their fur and meat. See untos. [ES: BBC. Jan 03; ES: Cuéllar. Nov 1, 99; ES: Euasisan Otter. Sep 21, 01; ES: Otternet. May 17, 03; Gázquez. Cocina. 2002:139; and Villena/Calero. 2002:22b]

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