European Otter

The European Otter, Lutra lutra, is a European member of the Mustelidae or weasel family, and is typical of freshwater otters. It may also be known as the Eurasian river otter, common otter, or Old World otter.

Range and Habitat

The European otter is the most widely distributed otter species. The otter is believed to be extinct in Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Otters are now very common along the coast of Norway and in Northern Britain, especially Shetland where 12% of the UK breeding population exist.

An otter’s diet mainly consists of fish but can also include birds, insects, frogs, crustaceans and sometimes-small mammals. In general this opportunism means they may inhabit any unpolluted body of freshwater, including lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. Otters may also live along the coast, in salt water, but require regular access to freshwater to clean their fur.

Behavior and Reproduction

Otters are strongly territorial, living alone for the most part. This depends on the density of food available. Males and females will breed at any time of the year when mating takes place in water. After a pregnancy period of about 63 days 1 to 4 pups are born, which remain dependent on the mother for a year. The male plays no role in parental care, because a few days before the young otters are born, the female otter begins to bite her partner until the male otter leaves. Otherwise the male otter would probably eat his young generation, because he is not able to tell the difference between rats and newborn otters.

Hunting mainly takes place at night. The day is usually spent in the otter’s ‘holt’, a burrow in the riverbank that can only be entered from underwater.


Trapping for their dense fur has been the main conservation risk for many otter species, but the European otter faces another threat. The increasing intensification of farming across Europe in the 20th century provoked many hunters to illegally capture a large portion of the wild otters. Because of the effect of poaching, the otter population rapidly declined in the second half of the 20th century becoming endangered.

However, concerted efforts are now being made to integrate otters alongside modern farming methods, including heavy European regulations for the humane treatment of otters. Harsher punishments and fines now help prevent otter poaching