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otter, name for a number of aquatic, carnivorous mammals of the weasel family, found on all continents except Australia. The common river otters of Eurasia and the Americas are species of the genus Lutra. The North American river otter, L. canadensis, ranges from N Alaska and Canada to the S United States. Its slender body is 21-2 to 3 ft (76–91 cm) long, excluding the 12-in. (30-cm), heavy tail; it weighs from 10 to 25 lb (4–10 kg). It has thick, glossy brown fur, which is commercially valuable. The head is flattened, the legs are short, and the hind feet are webbed. An agile swimmer, it fishes in streams and lakes, along the banks of which it makes its burrow. It also eats frogs, crayfish, and other water animals. Although it spends most of its time in water, it makes overland trips on occasion. The otter is a social and playful animal; groups have been seen playing “follow the leader,” sliding down mudbanks, or tobogganing in the snow, apparently for the sake of pleasure. Of the freshwater otters, the South American giant otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, is the most highly modified for aquatic life. Its highly streamlined body is up to 7 ft (213 cm) long, the tail is keeled, and the feet are short, webbed, and nearly useless on land. Its mouth is set under the muzzle, like that of a shark. Hunted extensively for its fur, the giant otter may be in danger of extinction over much of its range. Otters of other genera are found in Africa and SE Asia. The sea otter, Enhydra lutris, found in and around the kelp beds of the N Pacific, is the only exclusively marine species, although river otters sometimes enter the ocean at the mouths of rivers. The sea otter swims on its back and in this position carries its cub and eats its meals of abalone, crab, and sea urchin, sometimes using a rock to smash open the shells. Relentless hunting of the animal led to its near extinction; however, it is now protected by international agreement. Otters are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Mustelidae.


See E. Park, The World of the Otter (1972); P. Chanin, The Natural History of Otters (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Lutra lutra), a predatory mammal of the family Mustelidae; a valuable fur-bearing animal. Weight, up to 10 kg. The body is supple and muscular and more than 70 cm long. The long tail (about 45 cm) is tapering; the paws are short and webbed. The animal is found in Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa; in the USSR it is found everywhere except the Far North, the Crimea, and in deserts.

Otters can swim swiftly and burrow well. The fur does not get wet in water, and it retains air. The basic food for otters is fish and frogs; sometimes they catch ducklings and water voles. In winter otters stay near wormwood. While searching for fish, they may migrate, even crossing local watersheds. They gradually shed their fur during the spring-summer season; their best fur appears during the winter. The burrow, whose entrance is sometimes hidden beneath the water, is built under the overhanging banks. Gestation lasts eight to ten months, and otters breed once every two years in April or May. Otters give birth to blind offspring (most often three), which they care for all winter. The male does not help care for the young. Because of the widespread extermination of otters, hunting for them is prohibited in most regions of the USSR.


Ognev, S. I. Zveri Vostochnoi Evropy i Severnoi Azii, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 2, part 1. Edited by V. G. Geptner and V. P. Naumov. Moscow, 1967.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
Any of various members of the family Mustelidae, having a long thin body, short legs, a somewhat flattened head, webbed toes, and a broad flattened tail; all are adapted to aquatic life.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. any freshwater carnivorous musteline mammal of the subfamily Lutrinae, esp Lutra lutra (Eurasian otter), typically having smooth fur, a streamlined body, and webbed feet
2. the fur of any of these animals
3. a type of fishing tackle consisting of a weighted board to which hooked and baited lines are attached
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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