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Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)

Diputación de Málaga
Nutria baja ARL

Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is a big sized carnivore (head-body length 60 to 85 cm) with an elongated body, short legs and a long tail (35 to 60 cm), wide and flat on the base and ending in a tip. The head has short and rounded ears, hidden within the coat. Its fingers joined by membranes (webbed feet). It has a dense, lubricated and waterproof coat. Generally of brown tones, greyish on the belly and white on the throat. Females are a bit smaller than males. They have very good hearing and sense of smell, as well as large and sensitive facial whiskers. The eye is adapted to underwater vision, exhibiting more spherical lenses than in other terrestrial mammals. Males (6 to 9,5 kg) are much bigger than females (4 to 6,5 kg).

Where does it live?

It is an aquatic species linked to streams and river banks that are bordered by forest masses and have rocky backgrounds. It lives from sea level to high mountains. Although it prefers forest river courses, it is also present in irrigation channels, ditches, lagoons, marshes and wetlands in general. It is present in the urban media, in artificial golf courses, lagoons and in fishing ports. Breeding burrows are dug at the edge of the water, with entries and exits to both water and land. It often reuses natural caves or abandoned burrows of other animals. It also lives among the dense vegetation, in natural islets within the river course. Outside the breeding period it has no fixed burrows and uses temporary shelters to spend the night.

How does it live?

It is a dusk and nocturnal animal. By day it is usually asleep on old trunks, in the thickness of the vegetation or in underground dens, never very far from the river course. It feeds on fish, amphibians and crustaceans that it catches while swimming. To a lesser extent, it also hunts small birds, water rats and reptiles or consumes fruit. River crabs and fish are the base of its diet and it usually consumes them to a greater or lesser extent relative to their seasonal availability. It is opportunistic and exploits temporary bursts of food. They are sedentary and territorial animals (up to 10 km of river per animal) but with a great capacity for movement, even by land. They can move up to 23 km a day, being able to move away from the water courses in the dry season to look for temporary wetlands. 

How does it reproduce?

Otters can breed practically all year round, depending on food availability and the cycles of abundance of their prey. The summer drought and the consequent lack of fish are the main regulatory factors. Births are more common in spring, normally from 1 to 2 offspring.  The breeding burrows are usually near the water's edge and are prepared by the female with riparian vegetation and moss. The pups start going out at the age of two to four months, accompanied in their hunts by their mother.  They are very playful and stay with her until they are one year old, then they disperse and look for their own territory. They are sexually active at the age of two years old, and have a life expectancy from 8 to 12 years.  

Where can we see it in Málaga?

This species is present and common all over the province, although it is not very abundant. It is present in the main rivers, as well as reservoirs and estuaries of the province. It can also be observed in many golf courses of the Costa del Sol, in some of which it lives permanently. The fishing port of Estepona is one of the few coastal areas in the entire Iberian Peninsula where otters that take advantage of fishing discards and use seawater frequently and regularly. Its presence there has been verified since 2012. In the Great Path, we can find it in stages 1.2, 12, 15, 19, and 23 to 27.

Curious facts

The otter has always been linked to clean and crystalline waters, considered as an indicator of clean rivers. During the last century, from the 50s to the 80s, the otter almost disappeared in Spain. From the 90s, it started ongoing an expanding process, recolonizing its former territories and even started to use new habitats, including the peri-urban environments. At first the otters used artificial lagoons as temporary feeding points during the months of environmental stress (the Mediterranean summer). These lagoons worked as larders to come to when the rivers were starting to dry and when there was little fish. In Málaga, some otters found in this type of habitat a quiet place well provided with prey, to live permanently.    

Similar species

It is an unmistakable species.

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