African Clawless Otter Pictures, Stock Photos, Images, Illustrations

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African Clawless Otter, Aonyx capensis, Pictures, Stock Photos, Images and Illustrations

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The African clawless otter, Aonyx capensis, is a large freshwater otter found throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. It has short, velvety fur notable for the striking color contrast between the dark brown covering most of its body and the nearly-white throat and cheeks. It has very nimble front fingers that are not webbed, which it uses with great dexterity to find and manipulate prey.

Like all otters, the African clawless otter is in the Mustelidae family, which includes badgers, weasels, mink and otters. It is one of three otter species in the Genus Aonyx, the others being Congo Clawless Otters, Aonyx congicus, and Asian Small-clawed Otters, Aonyx cinereus.

The African clawless otter's range extends from Senegal on the west coast to Kenya on the east coast, and all the way south to the tip of South Africa. Curiously, the IUCN Otter Specialist Group's distribution map shows its range to only barely overlap that of the closely related Congo clawless otter, which occupies a circle of territory comprising Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, northern Angola, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and very small parts of Uganda and Nigeria. One source, (Rowe-Rowe, 1986) quoted in Lariviere, 2001, says that the African clawless and the Congo clawless otters are sympatric in limited areas of Rwanda and Uganda only. Why these two closely related species should have almost mutually exclusive territories is not clear from the available information.

African clawless otters are adapted to a variety of habitats, including rainforest, rivers, lakes, streams, agricultural ditches, swamps, estuaries, rocky coastlines, mangroves, and even semi-arid regions that have access to water.


African Clawless Otter Picture
Picture of African clawless otter or Cape clawless otter, Aonyx capensis, Widespread, though not abundant, in Africa, south of the Sahara Picture #: 104680

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Caniformia/Canoidea

Family: Mustelidae/Mustelids

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Aonyx

Specific: capensis

Species: Aonyx capensis

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African clawless otters resemble other otters, as they have long, slender bodies, short legs, and a thick tail that tapers. One of the things distinguishing them, however, is their front paws, which feature long, slender, fingers that are very dexterous and which lack webbing. Hind feat have some webbing, as well as short claws. The claws resemble nails, and are only on the center three of the five toes of each hind foot.

Another distinguishing feature of African clawless otters is their short, velvety fur with its distinctive coloration. Their short fur has a texture and sheen much like that of the smooth-coated otter of Asia. There is a significant color contrast between the brown of its body and the nearly white areas of its throat and cheeks. The lighter-colored fur extends from the nose to the chest region, all of the throat, and on the cheeks to where they meet the ears and eyes. Like most otter species, there are some color variations. The darker areas may range from chestnut to dark brown, and the light colored areas may be beige or yellowish to almost white.

African clawless otters can grow to be quite large, and are considered the second largest river otters, the largest being the Giant Otter of Brazil. Adults weigh between 12 kg (26.4 lbs) and 25 kg (55 lbs). They measure up to 150 cm (59 inches) including the tail, with males being larger than females. This otter's head is large as a percentage of body size compared to other river otters. The brain, too, is large, which may be a function of the dexterity of their fingers and the sensitivity of their vibrissae (whiskers).

African clawless otters eat crabs, frogs, fish, snakes, insects, worms, crayfish, shrimp, shellfish, birds and other animals they can catch in or near the water. Their large molars are adapted to crushing crab shells and the skull bones of large fish. They use their nimble fingers to probe in mud and under rocks and logs. They are able to securely grasp slippery fish and other prey and manipulate them as they eat. When holding food on shore, they may hobble on three legs, holding the food item in one hand pressed against their chest.

Foraging is done around dusk. A dive into the water lasts about 20 seconds, though this otter can stay under as long as 48 seconds. One researcher in 1977 noted that an adult African clawless otter successfully caught prey on 62% of its dives during a single foraging bout. Foraging may go on for as long as 3 hours (Lariviere, 2001). When swimming, the tail serves primarily as a rudder, but side to side movement can provide propulsion.

African clawless otters are generally solitary, but may be seen in small family groups of an adult pair and 2 or 3 pups. In a marine environment, they may be alone or in groups of 2 to 4.

A variety of vocalizations has been recorded for this species of otter. Their calls can be described as whistles, grunts, snarls, wails, moans, mews, hums, and barks. Growls and snarls are threat displays.

Grooming behavior is achieved by rubbing against rocks or grass. They are often seen rolling on sandbars or grassy areas. Basking in the sun is another frequently observed behavior, and male otters have been seen fighting.

Like other river otters, African clawless otters mark their territory with spraint (scat) and musk from their anal scent glands. Spraint is deposited in a conspicuous place, like a flat rock, but because it is sticky, it can adhere to a vertical surface as well.

Reproduction may occur at any time of year, but is influenced by the rainy season. Births are believed to peak when it's dry. After a two-month gestation, one to three pups are born. They gain weight at about 330 grams per week (Chanin, 1985). Pups leave their holt at the age of one month, and they reach sexual maturity at one year. They are unlikely to survive more than 10 years in the wild, but may reach the age of 20 in captivity.

The IUCN lists African clawless otters as Least Concern, as their range is extensive and there is no immediate threat of extinction. On the other hand, because their niche is specialized, they do not inhabit every corner of their vast range, but only those with water and plentiful food. Like many animals in Africa, they are subject to continuing loss of habitat as people move in to formerly unoccupied territories. Wherever people go, there is loss of habitat due to deforestation, over-grazing by livestock, and draining of wetlands. People involved in fishing often view otters as a competitor and pest, and so they are exterminated. Hunting for otter pelts and the bushmeat trade are another factor that will contribute to a decline in African clawless otters. In addition, African clawless otters are preyed upon by crocodiles and pythons, and pups may occasionally be taken by birds of prey.

Alternate names: African Clawless Otter, Cape Clawless Otter, Groototter, Loutre a Joues Blanches, Fingerotter, Weisswangen-Otter, Nutria Africana, Nutria de Cuello Blanco, fisi maji kubwa, fisi madji