photo c/o www.Araguaia.org via Wikimedia Commons
When you think of otters, you probably envision those impossibly adorable fluffy things that float on their backs with their babies. But these aquatic plush toys have some monstrous-looking cousins who’ve been hiding in the shadows.
Giant otters are the biggest of 13 otter species in the world, reaching almost 6 feet in length and 60 pounds. They live in South America where they inhabit freshwater rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. Because of their large size and powerful jaws, they’re sometimes called “water jaguars” or “river wolves.”
They’ve got long, slender bodies with short legs, strong necks and flat, paddle-like tails. They also have webbed feet and sharp claws for swimming and catching prey.
Their oversized eyes and ears can close underwater, and a broad snout with long whiskers helps them sense vibrations and locate food.
They have 36 teeth, including four long canines that can inflict serious wounds on their enemies or prey.
Giant otters are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, and they spend most of their time in the water hunting for fish, crabs, turtles, snakes and small caimans. They can dive up to 66 feet deep and stay underwater for up to eight minutes.
They also spend time on land where they rest, groom, play and mark their territory. They build dens by digging into riverbanks or under fallen logs or roots. They also create communal latrines and scent-marking sites along the water’s edge. These territorial animals will defend their homes from intruders; especially competing squads of giant otters. They can be aggressive and will attack with their teeth and claws if threatened.
They communicate with each other with a whole bunch of different sounds like whistles, chirps, growls, snorts and barks. They have been described as the noisiest of all otters.
Giant otters are endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, pollution, and human disturbance. Their population has declined by more than 50% in the past 30 years, and they are now extinct or rare in many parts of their former range. It is estimated that there are fewer than 5,000 giant otters left in the wild.