Giant Otter


Common Name: Giant Otter
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 heaviest.  


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 listed as 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.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.