European River Otter
Common Name: European River Otter
Species: Lutra lutra
The European River Otter's scientific name is
Lutra lutra, which means "otter otter". It belong to the weasel family, Mustelidae, which
they share with minks and weasels.
European river otters range in length from 3 to 3.5 feet and
weigh between 12 and 26 pounds. Their fur is brownish-gray with
their throats being a buff or cream color. These otters range south
of the Arctic Circle throughout Europe, most of Asia, and parts of
northern Africa. The individuals in Asia tend to have a lighter
overall color than those in Europe. The life expectancy of the
European river otter is ten years.
The European river otter has an extensive range. They inhabit a
variety of habitats from rivers and streams to lakes, ponds, and
marshes. Some individuals can be found in coastal waters, but they
are not specially adapted to handle a marine environment. They
require a nearby source of fresh water for drinking and grooming.
The large geographic region in which these animals may be found,
however, is not a reflection of population size. They are considered
a vulnerable species and have become extinct across much of their
range. Like most otter species, they are highly opportunistic
predators. Their primary source of food is fish, but they will also
eat small crustaceans, frogs, and small birds or mammals when those
prey items are plentiful.
This species of otter is nocturnal, and begins becoming active at
dusk. They are solitary animals in adulthood, and they will display
territorial aggression to otters of the same sex. A male’s territory
will overlap that of several females. It is interesting to note that
the European river otter does not have a particular breeding season.
Kits are born after a gestation period of around 63 days; the
typical litter has 2 or 3 kits. Young usually leave their mother
between 8 and 12 months of age, although there are rare instances in
which they remain for 14 months.
In the past, the European river otter was often mistakenly
considered a pest for local fisheries. People later learned that the
otters actually preferred slow-swimming fish species that were not
used for human consumption. This misunderstanding did take a serious
toll on their population, as did the fur trade, and their numbers
declined rapidly. Today, the European river otter is protected by
the European Protection of Wildlife and Living Habitats Agreement,
which was enacted in 1979. This act strictly prohibits the hunting,
capture, and trade of otters within their European range. The
animals still face many threats from other human sources, and there
are currently several studies looking into ways to clean up polluted