Common Name: Giant Otter
Species: Pteronura brasiliensis
The Giant Otter's scientific name is Pteronura
brasiliensis, which means "winged tail belonging to Brazil",
although this otter species is not limited to Brazil. Winged refers
to the fin-like shape of the giant otter's tail. The giant otter is
a member of the weasel family, Mustelidae, in the Mammalian Order of
Carnivora. Other mustelids include ferrets and mink.
Adult Giant Otters can range from 5-6 ft in length and weigh from
50-70lbs. Depending on how you measure it, this species may or
may not be the largest otter.
The Giant Otter is the longest otter in the world. The Sea Otter is the
Giant otters are found in freshwater rivers, creeks and lakes in
the South American rainforests of Brazil. Their preferred prey
consists of slow-swimming fish, such as perch and catfish,
crustaceans and small snakes. Giant otters have also been known to
eat small caiman—a relative of alligators—when they cannot find
enough fish. The adults may consume 6 to 9 pounds of food each day.
Completely diurnal, these large animals live and hunt in family
groups called holts. A holt may consist of as many as 10
individuals, led by an adult breeding pair. The members will hunt
together in deeper water, earning the giant otter the local nickname
of “River Wolf.” Kits are born in early fall. Gestation is 65-70
days. One to five young are born, weighing four ounces each. Solid
food is eaten at 3-4 months of age. The young are weaned sometime
after the next year's litter are born, but usually remain with the
family group for a period time after.
As a top predator, the giant otter does not have many natural
threats. However, their numbers have declined due to human impacts,
and these animals are now
endangered, both by the US Fish and Wildlife and by the IUCN. The
most direct threats from humans arise from habitat destruction, over
fishing, and chemical pollution of the water. Giant otters are also
susceptible to parvovirosis, a disease carried by dogs and cats. The
otters used to be hunted as well, but today there are laws to
protect them from poachers.