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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 17:35 EDT

Giant Otter

The giant otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, (also known as the river wolf) is the longest of the world’s otters, as well as one of the largest mustelids. It is native to South America but is endangered and is also very rare in captivity.

Physical characteristics

The giant otter can reach up to 6 ft (1.8 m) in length, and weigh 76 lb (34 kg) in weight. The females are smaller and weigh only 57 to 60 lb (26″“27 kg). It has a lifespan of 12 years in their natural habitat, and 21 years in captivity.

Its fur is dense, thick and velvety, and is highly sought after by fur traders. The guard hairs are short, 5/16 in (8 mm) long, twice as long as the under-fur. The fur is water repellent and is a deep chocolate brown in color. A unique white mark is located on the throat that can be used to distinguish between individuals. The head is round and the ears are small. The nose is completely covered in fur, with only the two slit-like nostrils visible. The eyes are large and acute, perfect for hunting underwater. The legs are short and stubby and end in large webbed feet tipped with sharp claws. The giant otter is well suited for an aquatic life, and can close its ears while underwater.

Feeding ecology

The giant otter is one of the largest predators of its region, and so can choose from a wide variety of animals to feed on. It feeds mainly on fish, such as catfish, piranha, and perch. It will also feed on crabs, small caimans, and snakes, including small anacondas. It can hunt both in groups and alone, tending to head towards the deeper waters while in groups. It consumes up to 10 lb (4.5 kg) of food each day, using mostly its eyesight to capture its prey.

The giant otter has very few natural predators. Caimans and large anacondas prey upon both young and adult otters by ambush. On land jaguars are also a threat to otters when they are in search of more suitable water reserves in the dry season.

Social and reproductive biology

The giant otter is a highly social animal and lives in extended family groups of between 4 to 8 members. Group members share roles within the group, structured around the dominant breeding pair. The females have a pregnancy period of 65 to 70 days, giving birth to 1 to 5 young. Mothers give birth in an underground den near the river shore. Otter pups are taught to swim after two months and left to fend for themselves after two to three years. The giant otter is very sensitive to human activity. The giant otter gives birth annually. The giant otter is the only species of mustelid that is monogamous.

Giant Otter