Three otter species of the Indian subcontinent

The subcontinent is home to 3 of the 13 species of otter found worldwide. These are the smooth-coated (Lutrogale perspicillata), Asian small-clawed (Aonyx cinereus) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra).

I. Smooth-coated otter :

The smooth-coated otter is the largest of the 3 otter species described here, weighing between 7-11kg and, on average, measuring 1.3m in length. With a domed head and short muzzle, the ears are set lower on the head whilst the eyes are set high and wide. The nose (or rhinarium) is a key identification feature and is mostly hairless, in the shape of a broad distorted diamond Both the neck and head are similar widths, the limbs are short but strong and the tail is flattened towards the end so it is wider than it is thick (dorsoventrally flattened).

True to their name, the brown fur is smooth, short and sleek with a paler neck and throat. The shade of brown will vary from each region and whether sighted dry or wet on land or in water. Smooth-coated otters have full webbing on their 5 toes, measuring up to 8cm wide (from 1st to 5th digit). These are the largest paw prints of the 3 otters species in the Indian subcontinent. Many of the features listed above can be seen in the videos below.


II. Eurasian otter :

The Eurasian otter is predominantly a solitary species unless sighted as a mother with pups. This otter species ranges between 6-12 kg and 0.9-1.2m from head to the tail, which is cone-shaped and not flattened. With a broader, elongated head and longer snout in comparison to the smooth-coated and the Asian small-clawed otter, the nose (rhinarium) has a definable W-shaped upper border.

The fur is dark brown, dense and long with a paler underside, however can be lighter brown throughout its range, particularly in Asia. The Eurasian otter paws have full webbing on their 5 toes, present claws and measure around 5.5cm (1st to 5th digit) in width and 6-7cm long.


III. Asian small-clawed otter :

Weighing between 2-5 kg and measuring between 60-95 cm in length from head to tip of tail, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest of the 13 otters species worldwide. The head is short, broad and smaller than the neck. The nose (rhinarium) is hairless and varies in shape between a rounded or an undulated upper border. The body is also short with a dorsoventrally flattened tail, and fur is typically medium brown but can have a reddish tinge with paler underside, and a whiter throat, upper lips and cheeks.

The Asian-small clawed otter paw prints are much smaller in comparison to the other two species, measuring under 4.5cm in width (1st to 5th digit). Asian small-clawed otters have distinctive paws and prints with long ‘finger-like’ toes, the middle digit being the longest, and reduced claw marks and partial webbing.

Comparison of the three species :

Feature Smooth-coated otter Asian small-clawed otter Eurasian otter
Size 7-11 kg
~1.3 m (head to tail)
2-5 kg
6-12 kg
0.9 m- 1.2m (head to tail)
Shape of Rhinarium (Nose) Distorted diamond shape Varies from rounded to an undulated upper border W-shaped upper border
Pawprint Size (1st to 5th digit) Up to 8 cm Up to 4.5cm Up to 6 cm wide
Paw Webbing + Claw Marks Claw marks present Claw marks absent
Reduced webbing
Claw marks present
Group Size Social species so can be found in large groups; may be seen solitary Social species so can be found in large groups Solitary unless a mother and cubs