Smooth-coated Otter Pictures, Stock Photos, Images, Illustrations

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Smooth-coated Otter, Lutrogale perspicillata, Pictures, Stock Photos, Images and Illustrations

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The smooth-coated otter is the largest otter species found in Eurasia. It is notable for it's short, velvety fur, and it is the lone member of its genus, Lutrogale. An otter of this species became famous as the subject of a book by Scottish naturalist Gavin Maxwell in 1960. Despite the otter's notoriety, the subspecies from which it came, Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli, which occupied the marshes of southern Iraq, is now likely extinct.

Like all otters, the smooth-coated otter is a member of the Mustelidae family, which includes badgers, weasels, mink and otters. Its range extends from Indonesia in the east to Afghanistan in the west. There may be a small number of this species left in Iraq, though the available evidence makes this unlikely.

The preferred habitats of smooth-coated otters are lakes, rivers and ponds with heavy vegetation, as well as rice fields, seasonally flooded lands, coastal wetlands, mangroves, estuaries and peat swamp forests. Peat swamp forests are forests that contain waterlogged soil, where the leaves and wood contained therein do not fully decompose, such as those found in Indonesia.

This species of otter can create its own burrow with an entrance below the waterline, a behavior often associated with the American beaver. It also seeks shelter in rocky crevices, fallen brush, and dense vegetation.

Smooth-coated otters resemble Eurasian otters, but their fur is shorter and more velvety in texture. They have long, slender bodies and a thick neck. They have short legs and a long, thick tail that tapers to a point. The tail is flatter than that of the Eurasian otter. Their large feet have five webbed toes with short, strong claws. Hind legs are longer than front. They are the heaviest of the Old World otters, as they weigh between 7 kg (15.4 lbs) and 11 kg (24.2 lbs). They measure up to 130 cm (51.2 inches) including the tail.


Smooth-coated Otter Picture
Picture of Smooth-coated otters, smooth otters or Indian smooth-coated otters, Lutrogale perspicillata, threatened species Image #: 029345

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Caniformia/Canoidea

Family: Mustelidae/Mustelids

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Lutrogale

Specific: perspicillata

Species: Lutrogale perspicillata

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The smooth-coated otter's fur may range from light brown to gray brown to very dark brown, but with a lighter colored throat and underbody. Like other otters, they have very dense fur made up of a fine undercoat protected by thicker guard hairs. Their nostrils are widely-spaced, giving the nose a special prominence among river otters.

Smooth-coated otters eat fish, amphibians, snakes, insects, worms, snails, crayfish, shrimp, shellfish, crabs, birds and other animals they can catch in or near the water. They are considered nocturnal, but can be found foraging at any time of day or night. Their long vibrissae (whiskers) help them locate food in murky or dark water. While dependent on waterways for food, they can travel extensive distances across dry land in search of suitable habitat.

Smooth-coated otters are one of the more social otter species. Males and females work together to raise young and hunt. They have been seen in extended family groups of up to 10, including juveniles from previous litters. Researchers have observed them cooperate in forming a semicircle in the water to drive fish toward shore where they can catch them. Fishermen in India have been known to exploit this behavior by using smooth-coated otters to drive fish into their nets.

Smooth-coated otters need a territory of 7 to 12 sq. km. They mark their territory with spraint (scat) and with musky scent from their scent glands. Marking is most evident when they are breeding, which occurs between August and December in areas where the monsoon's seasonal flooding influences the breeding season. However, smooth-coated otters can breed year-round in locales where their access to food and water is stable throughout the year.

Researchers at the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in India have recorded extensive data about sprainting activity of the smooth-coated otters there. They noted that the otters deposit their spraint at preferred spraint sites. The otters showed a preference for flat rocks in conspicuous places, and would use the same spraint sites over and over. Sprainting was associated with basking and grooming, and before and after hunting (Shenoy, Varma, Prasad, 2006). For the complete article, visit:

Smooth-coated otters form monogamous pairs. Two to five pups are born in a litter. The pups are totally dependent on their parents for a month, and learn to swim within two months. They reach sexual maturity at two years, and probably live about 4 to 10 years in the wild. In captivity, they may live to be 20.

The IUCN lists smooth-coated otters as Vulnerable. The greatest threat to the species is habitat destruction, followed by hunting. Natural predators are crocodiles and birds of prey, which may manage to catch young otters. It is believed the species has undergone a 50% decrease in numbers in the past 10 years.

The otter pelt trade is particularly driven by the market in Tibet. The Tibetan ceremonial dress, called a chupa, is made with a collar of otter fur. Up to 6 otters pelts are required for one chupa, so hunters throughout Asia, especially in Tibet, Nepal and northern India, are highly motivated to meet the demand. When Tibetan officials stumble upon animal fur smugglers, which happens rarely, they may find as many as 700 otter pelts at a time. Otter penis and the oil from otter fat is also harvested for use in Chinese medicine

An interesting but sad footnote in any report on the smooth-coated otter is how an entire subspecies population, Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli, was driven to extinction. Already depleted by the 1960s due to over hunting, its habitat was wiped out by the politically motivated directives of Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, in the 1990s, virtually ensuring there are none left.

Historically, there had been an isolated population of smooth-coated otters living in the brackish Tigris-Euphrates marshes of southern Iraq. One of these otters became famous as the subject of a 1960 book, Ring of Bright Water, by Scottish naturalist, Gavin Maxwell, who is credited with identifying the subspecies, and whose name it has taken (maxwelli). The otters occupied, along with countless other animals and endemic wetland birds, the largest wetland ecosystem of western Eurasia, which is considered by some to be in the vicinity of the original Garden of Eden. Relentless hunting in the 20th century, however, decimated populations of mammals and birds, many of them endemic. Lions and leopards were eliminated from the area prior to World War II, and no Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli has been identified in Iraq since the 1950s.

In addition to animals, the southern Iraq marshlands were also home to 500,000 Marsh Arabs, called Ma'adan, who eked out a living farming, fishing and making reed mats. The area was considered a refuge for those persecuted by the Saddam Hussein regime, and was feared to be a source of insurrection. In the early 90s, the Iraqi government began, as a form of retribution, to divert waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that fed the marshes. Hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs were displaced and forced to move elsewhere in Iraq or into Iranian refugee camps. The marshlands were reduced to a tiny fraction of their original area. The birds, fish and other animals that lived there were collateral damage in Hussein's bid to eliminate his Shia enemies.

The draining of the southern Iraq marshes is considered one of the worst ecological disasters of the 20th century. Efforts are being made to restore the marshes, and it is now estimated that 40% of the 1990 area has been reflooded and partially restored.

Despite references on various websites, including Wikipedia, to an isolated population of smooth-coated otters in Iraq, it is unlikely there are any of this species remaining there.

Alternate names: Smooth-coated Otter, Indian Smooth-coated Otter, Smooth Coated Otter, Smooth Otter, Black Otter, Loutre d'Asie, Loutre Indienne, Nutria Lisa, Nutria Simung, Indischer Fischotter, Berang-berang bulu licin