Among fluffy kittens and big eyed puppies, one of Earth's cutest animals is often said to be the cuddly little otter. But don't be fooled by the hand holding and cheek rubbing seen in pictures used for memes, posters, and throw pillows, otters are still wild animals and can be dangerous.
Otters can be found living on almost every continent on Earth and these mean otter facts apply to all 13 species, many of which are unfortunately endangered due to over hunting, habitat destruction, and pandemic viruses among certain otter populations. Despite this, they win over many human fans with their adorable appearance, their playfulness, and their energetic antics. While they slide down hills, wrestle with each other, and engage in other cute humanlike hobbies, people can easily overlook the horrors otters inflict on the members of their own species as well as others.
Are otters mean? It would be unfair to judge and characterize an entire subfamily of mammals through human moralization, but yea, they can be pretty vicious.
Hidden beneath those button noses and fluffy fur lies a very creature with some really disturbing mating habits. While mating, male otters grab onto the female and bite her nose, sometimes hard enough to draw blood and cause deep wounds. The act sometimes entails the male holding the female's head underwater and as the two spin and writhe under the surface.A good number of the females drown in the process. Others die from injuries sustained during their romp. Male otters have also been observed continuing the mating process even after the female is dead.
During a two year study of otters in Monterey Bay by the California Department of Fish and Game, researchers also commonly observed males forcibly mating with young harbor seals.
Otters have large appetites to account for the extreme conditions they face. They are the smallest marine mammals in the world, but they eat about a quarter of their own body mass everyday and much of the energy is used just keeping their little otter bodies warm. Life becomes increasingly difficult for female otters when taking care of young pups. According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, by the time female otters are weaning their pups, their daily energy demand increases by 96 percent from pre-pregnancy levels.
But sometimes food is scarce and otters will do whatever it takes to get it, even if that includes threatening their own family. Male otters have been observed exhibiting "hostage behavior" by taking babies away from females and essentially holding them underwater until the female brings him food. Females have also been spotted taking food from other otters; however, they tend to be much more selective about the food they steal than their male counterparts.
Although specialists say otter attacks on humans are rare, there are a number of documented occurrences. A study found there have been 39 anecdotal cases of attacks on humans reported in newspapers since 1875, and four documented in scientific. Like most animals, if an otter or its babies feel threatened, they may become aggressive and most incidents happen while a person was swimming or walking near water.
The Bronx Zoo in New York has a mixed animal exhibit in which an area of land inhabited by Javan lutung monkeys sits directly next to a pond filled with otters. A video emerged on the internet of a monkey who fell into the water and was immediately attacked by the otters. Zoo keepers arrived too late to save the monkey. A similar event happened at the Bristol Zoo in England when a golden-headed lion tamarin escaped from its enclosure, fell into the otter exhibit, became stuck in a drainage valve then was eaten by the otters.
Giant otters average a weight of about 75 pounds but some have been discovered to be more than six feet long. They eat up to nine pounds of food per day and their sharp teeth and powerful tail allow them to swim fast while hunting and can even take on caiman or other large Amazon creatures if necessary. Giant river otters hunt in packs of nine and hunt together, garnering them the nickname "lobos de río" or "river wolves."
But as big as giant otters can get, they're still smaller than their ancestors who may have been around the size of a wolf and weighed more than 100 pounds according to a skull archeologists found in China.
Among many communities in Brazil, however, giant river otters are a source of fear. It is popular belief that giant river otters attack and capsize canoes, but this has never actually happened and their terrible reputation dates back only to 1978 due to a highly publicized but mostly unrelated incident. While an off-duty policeman at the Brasília zoo tried to save a child who had fallen into an otter enclosure, he was attacked by a pack of giant river otters and subsequently died in hospital due to infections.