Otters of the world

Meet the adorable members of the otter family from around the world.

Otters of the world

Otters are carnivorous mustelids in the Lutrinae subfamily. There are 13 extant species of otter around the world, one of which is native to the UK.


Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra)

© David Tipling / Getty

This species is the most widely distributed of all the otters, ranging through Eurasia up to the Arctic Circle, from Ireland to Kamchatka, and south to North Africa, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Their varied and adaptable diets mean they may inhabit any unpolluted body of fresh water, including lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds, as long as there are adequate food supplies. On the Shetland Islands, some otters have been known to abandon fishing in favour of rabbit hunting.

As of 2011, they can be found in every English county, including some urban rivers. 

Status: Near Threatened


Hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana)

This otter is found in coastal areas and on larger inland rivers across Southeast Asia (Myanmar, South Thailand, Cambodia, South Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia, including Sumatra and Borneo).

Extremely few individuals survive in Vietnam, southern Thailand, Sumatra and Cambodia, mainly due to poaching. 

It is one of the rarest otter species. Until 1998, it was thought to have been extinct, but small populations have been discovered since then.

Status: Endangered


Spotted-necked otter (Hydrictus maculicollis)

© Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Getty

Until recently, the spotted-necked otter was considered to be part of the Lutra genus, but it is now placed in the Hydrictus genus. 

It is common in Lake Victoria and Zambia, but not in some lakes and rivers, such as in the Zambezi below the Victoria Falls.

Status: Near Threatened


Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale persipicillata)

A smooth-coated otter swimming in Kaziranga National Park (Assam, India) © James Warwick / Getty

Smooth-coated otters occur throughout much of the Indian Subcontinent in Java, Sumatra and Borneo, northward to south-western China, east through Nepal and Bhutan and India to Pakistan, excluding the Indus Valley. An isolated population of the species is also found in the marshes of Iraq indicating the range must once have been wider.

The fur of this species is smoother and shorter than that of other otters, and they use scent to communicate both within the otter species, and with other animals. In the past, this species was widely employed throughout its range by fishermen, with trained animals being highly valued.

Status: Vulnerable


North American river otter (Lontra canadensis)

A North American river otter eating an eel in Washington State (USA) © Danita Delimont / Getty

This species occurs throughout the USA and Canada, and has been reintroduced to midwestern USA in order to expand its distribution. 

Due to trapping, water pollution and habitat degradation, the numbers of North American river otter had declined through most of their range by the early 1900s. 

Status: Least Concern


South American river otter (Lontra provocax)

A South American river otter in Chiloe Island (Chile) © Kevin Schafer / Getty

The South American river otter can be found in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats throughout Chile and Argentina. 

This species once had an extensive distribution from the Cauquenes and Cachapoal Rivers to the Magellan region in Chile, but is now restricted to seven isolated areas from Cautín to Futaleufú due to overhunting.

Status: Endangered


Neotropical river otter (Lontra longicaudis)

A neotropical river otter resting on a log in Tortugero National Park (Costa Rica) © Josh Miller Photography / Getty

This species has the widest distribution of all the Lontra species, from northern and central Argentina up through south and central America to northwest Mexico.

The Neotropical otter is the greatest generalist of all otter species, inhabiting a range of habitats including wastewater treatment plants, rice and sugar cane plantations, drainage ditches and swamps to cold, glacial lakes in the Andes of Ecuador.

Status: Near Threatened


Marine otter (Lontra felina)

A marine otter on Chiloe Island (Chile) © Doug Cheeseman / Getty

The marine otter is found along the western coast of the South American continent, with patchy distribution due to some unsuitable habitat and increased human occupation. 

Status: Endangered


Giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis)

A giant otter in Mato Grosso (Brazil) © Sergio Pitamitz / Getty

The giant otter is found in South America in a range of countries including Peru, Venezuela and Brazil. As the largest otter, it can reach up to 2m in length. 

It is a gregarious species, living in groups of up to 20 individuals, and will attack potential predators such as caimans. 

Status: Endangered


Asian small-clawed otter (Amblonyx cinereus)

Often seen in zoos, this is one of the more familiar otter species for many people. In the wild, the distribution range of this species includes India, Taiwan and southern China. 

Status: Vulnerable


African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis)

An African clawless otter in veld in Free State Province (South Africa) © Roger de la Harpe / Getty

Also known as the Cape clawless otter, the African clawless otter is found through much of sub-Saharan Africa. This species can grow quite large, almost as big as the giant otter, and weigh up to 18kg. 

Status: Near Threatened


Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus)

There is some debate as to whether the Congo clawless otter is a separate species to the African clawless otter (A.capensis), but it is considered a separate species by the IUCN Otter Specialist Group. 

It is found in the rainforests of the Congo basin including Democratic Republic of Congo, Equitorial Guinea and Gabon.

Status: Near Threatened


Sea otter (Enhydra lutris)

A female sea otter holds her pup out of the water in Alaska (USA) © Milo Burcham / Getty

It is found most often in areas with protection from the most severe ocean winds, such as rocky coastlines, thick kelp forests, and barrier reefs.

Sea otters are native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Currently stable populations exist in parts of the Russian east coast, Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and California, with reports of recolonizations in Mexico and Japan.

Though they typically forage alone, sea otters tend to rest together and link arms in single-sex groups called rafts. A raft typically contains 10 to 100 animals, but the largest raft ever seen contained over 2000 sea otters.

Status: Endangered

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