IUCN Otter Specialist Group . . . leading global otter conservation Last Update: Tuesday January 3, 2012
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Questions and Answers: In-Depth Responses

I have only a layman's knowledge of otters but I've recently moved to live in a rural area of the Limousin and recently, while driving down a local country lane, was surprised to catch a glimpse of what I took to be an otter diving in a very small pond beside the road. Today, while passing the same pond at around mid day, a pair of otters crossed the road in front of my car and entered the water. The pond is some way from the nearest water course, a very small stream. I had a pretty good view of the animals and I'm as certain as I can be that I was not being confused by mink, coypu or whatever. Is it unusual to see otters in this sort of environment? I would have assumed the pond was too small to provide otters with a regular food supply.

Iain Craze, 4 January 2007

Response from Lesley Wright

It's not at all unusual to see otters in good habitat using small water courses. Limousin has a recovering otter population, and the animals will be using all kinds of food sources. Small streams and ponds are popular with otters as eels, crayfish and frogs seasonally form a major part of their diet, and all can be found in small watercourses and are easier to catch there than in larger ones. Like all carnivores, if there is an easy meal available, otters will take it rather than work harder for something else.  The size of an otter's territory will be related to the density of resources in that habitat, amongst other things.

Otters will also travel some distance overland when hunting, and natal dens, where cubs are born, are typically quite a long way from water to avoid danger of flooding when cubs are too young to be moved. Some otters' entire territories may comprise small watercourses and ponds, if there is sufficient food. On the Shetland Islands, one female otter was recorded as having converted entirely to hunting rabbits!

I would think that the pair you saw was a mother and fairly mature cub, as it's very unusual to see male and female otters together except for a couple of days at most when the female is in oestrus. The pond obviously forms part of the mother's hunting territory; it probably has a good frog population which are currently hibernating in the mud and so easy to find and eat.

The paper below gives some idea of current otter numbers in Limousin:

Leblanc, F. (2003) Protecting Fish Farms from Predation by the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) in the Limousin Region of Central France: First Results IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 20(1): 45 - 48

Response provided 09 January 2007