The Asian Small-clawed Otter is the smallest of the 13 Otter species, less than a meter long, nose to tail tip and weighing up to 5kg. They are well adapted to aquatic life with a long, streamlined body, short limbs, webbed feet, waterproof fur and tapering tail.
They can close their nostrils and ears under water. Their thick waterproof fur glistens silver while under water, as trapped air bubbles stream off it.
The main body colour is light brown, with a cream area on the throat. The Small-clawed Otter is also sometimes known as the ‘finger otter’ as it claws are so short!
In parts of India, China and South-east Asia, otters are traditionally trained to help fishermen, catching fish and returning them to the boat in exchange for a reward.
Distribution & Habitat
The Asian Small-clawed Otter is found right across Asia (including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, and South-east China) as well as India and Nepal.
There is even a small group that has established itself in England after escaping from captivity.
They are adaptable creatures, able to live in streams, mangroves, canals, wetlands and rice fields, depending on what is available. They will scamper over rocks on the banks and through still and moving water alike. They favour streams with nearby vegetation cover.
Otters form close pairs, with the female dominant. Breeding begins at around two to three years of age, with mating occurring year round. Gestation is around two to three months, and litters are between two to seven pups.
Otter mothers will find a natural hole on the riverbank as a den to give birth in and raise her young. The pups are born hairless with eyes closed. Otter fathers help the mother to raise the young, guarding the den and bringing food. Wild lifespan is up to 11 years, in human care, up to 15yrs.
Small-clawed Otters are extremely social animals. They live in extended family groups of up to 15 individuals. Males and females form very close pairs, and will work together to raise their pups.
Otters communicate with a wide range of calls, including different sounds for greeting, playing, courting and even a special call for raising the alarm! The otter’s great sense of smell allows them to communicate using scent marks. Common latrines are used as a big smelly communication zone as well as a marker of the group’s territory.
Otters are well known for their playfulness and sense of curiosity. Playing together helps keep family bonds strong and teaches the pups important skills such as how to find food.
Otters have teeth perfectly adapted for crushing their favourite food – crabs! While crabs form as much as 80% of the otter’s diet, they will also eat other water creatures such as fish and snails as well as small land animals such as lizards, frogs and mice.
Otters will use their sensitive paws, claws and stiff whiskers to forage for food. They need to eat often and will hunt throughout the day.
Small-clawed Otters face the same threats as many other animals in Asia, with the biggest being habitat loss.
They are also affected by pollution of waterways, including pesticide run-off from farmland. Water pollution and overfishing reduce the availability of prey species, such as crabs, that the otters eat.
Otters are also poached for the fur trade, as their fur is beautiful, soft and lush.