Giant river otter

Photo by S James

Playful, vicious, adorable, ferocious: The giant river otter seems to be a physical embodiment of something that can be lovable and terrifying at the same time. Before you approach one, it may be smart to learn a little more about them and what to expect if you see one.

A Low Down on the Giant River Otter

To start with, the giant otter definitely lives up to its name. Most are around 70-75 pounds, but many are heavier. It is also one of the world’s largest otters, hitting around the six feet mark. Oh…okay. Let’s say that again: It can grow up to six feet long.

Giant river otter Being as long as an adult man is just one of the few crazy traits this South American otter has. Actually, almost everything else about this disconcerting animal is just as outrageous.

The average onlooker can still tell that the giant river otter is part of the weasel family with its distinctive traits that include webbed feet, elongated bodies, water-resistant fur, and powerful swiping tails. It’s just that the giant river otter’s features are greatly exaggerated.

Eat or Be Eaten

Even the diet fits the personality of this cuddly monster. Piranhas, a fish with its own reputation of being savagely aggressive, are a staple in its nourishment alongside crustaceans, anacondas, and small caimans. This creature is known to have an intake of about six to nine pounds of food each day.

Predators of this otter are few in number but do include jaguars and large caimans. Because of the stunning agility and ability to work effortlessly in groups, the giant river otter tends to have no problem defending itself from such predators.

The major predator that these otters do have trouble protecting themselves from are, of course, poachers. Due to the extensive hunting for the giant otters’ pelts along with the loss of its habitats and competition with fisherman, the species have been placed on the endangered list. As a result, this species is now considered the rarest of its kind.

Nature’s Linguists

Giant River OtterSurprisingly, the most impressive trait involved with this animal may be its vocal and social structures. The otter has the nickname of the river wolf, and just like other wolves, the giant river otter has an incredibly complex social system that includes hunting in packs and looking out for one another as a tribe.

Its vocabulary is extensive and includes sounds with different meanings, such as warning alerts, greeting sounds, mating calls, begs, and barking to indicate changes in hunting patterns. Based on observation results from science researchers, Christina Mumm and Mirjam Knörnschild, the otters can communicate with 22 distinct sounds. To make an applicable comparison, the sea otters located on the United States’ coasts only have about 10 different noises in their vocal selection.

All about the Family

Giant river otter family

Family of Giant River Otters

Even though the otters can live in groups of upwards of 10 otters or so, they tend to actually be monogamous and stay with their future offspring. It is a group effort to take care of the newborns, especially because it takes a few weeks for the babies to get their swimming legs. Oddly, the otters’ lifespan in the wild tends to only be around 12 years while in captivity it is in 21 years (not as pets however, since the otters quickly become unmanageable). This may possibly be due to the combination of threats of predators, the changing environment, and competition from neighboring animals, such as electric eels and stingrays, for food.

Final Advice: Don’t Mess With It!

The giant river otter is a great reminder that lovability can come in all sizes. It is also an arguably more essential reminder to not assume that if something is endearing, it is also harmless. To reiterate that last point here is some videos of a group of otters against a caiman,  pestering a jaguar, and a lone otter chilling with some caimans.