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European Otter

Virtually extinct in Europe

Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae

Genus & Species: Lutra lutra


European otters are small members of the weasel family that have taken to water. They grow to a length of 2-3 ft with a height of 12 in. The tail length is 1.4-1.6 in. Males are heavier than females, with the females weighing 12-33 lbs.

European otters have a sleek, streamlined body with a thick tail that tapers to a point. The ears are small and the nose is shaped like a hexagon. The limbs are short and the feet are webbed, the toes ending in sharp claws. Long whiskers are located on each side of the snout and are very sensitive to touch. The sense of sight, smell and hearing is acute. The eyes are located at the top of the head.

European otters are dusky brown in colour with a lighter-coloured belly. The guard hairs are long, .68 in, and the underfur is shorter. The guard hairs are stiff and coarse and covered in an oil that the European otter produces. This oil acts as a water repellent and is so effective that the skin never gets wet.

European otters have flaps over their ears and nose that close shut while the otter is swimming. However, the eyes remain open. They can hold their breath for 20 seconds and can swim underwater for 1300 ft. European otters have a life span of 9-10 years. They communicate with whistles and snarls.


European otters are found throughout most of Europe, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain, and Portugal. They are also located throughout most of Asia but are absent from northern Russia and southern Asia, including all of India. European otters can also be found on the northern tip of Africa.

European otters spend most of their lives in freshwater, away from human contact. They can be found in rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and along rocky coasts. They are mostly nocturnal and live solitary lives except while mating. Males require a territory of 10 miles of undisturbed riverbank.


European otters eat fish, eels, insects, birds, frogs, baby rabbits, and crustaceans. European otters living along coastal waters feed mostly on crabs and dogfish. They hunt by cornering their prey in weeds and catching them in their mouths. They feed on their catch immediately after they reach the shore.


Sexual maturity is reached at 18 months for males and 2 years for females. European otters mate at any time of the year. The males will mate with more than one female, staying with each female in her den. An average of 2-3 pups are born after a gestation period of 61-74 days. Anywhere from 1-6 pups in a litter have been known. The pups are born blind and naked and only 4 in. long in a burrow called a holt. They are helpless for their first six weeks and are taken care of by the female. They will stay with their mother for 13-15 months before becoming independent.


The European otter has no known enemy but man. In the 1950's they were common throughout all of their range. After extensive hunting by man for sport, their fur, or to protect the salmon stocks, they were all but eliminated throughout most of Europe. Today it is illegal to hunt European otters, as they are so rare. They have an "endangered" status in Europe. Today their numbers are increasing very slowly due to habitat loss, traffic injuries, and chemical pollution. Conservation efforts in the UK and Scandinavia include releasing otters born in captivity back into the wild.


The European otter is a type of river otter and is related to the North American river otter. There are 10 subspecies of the European otter and most of them are endangered.


1. "European Otter" Wildlife Fact File, USA
2. "Save the European Otter" Wildlife Fact File, USA
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