21st Nov 2019
Here we bring you the otter. Often thought of in ‘Marmite’ terms of love or hate, otters can be the bane of a pond keepers life - despite them being loved and admired by millions.
Lifespan: 5-10 years (longer recorded)
Gestation period: 9 weeks, 2-3 Cubs
Protected under UK law since 1981
A nature lovers’ favourite and a pond/lake owners’ nightmare the loveable otter certainly divides opinion here in the UK, you either love them or hate them. They are one of our most accomplished predators having to eat roughly 15% of their body weight a day to sustain their metabolism. Having webbed feet makes them excellent swimmers, so they will feed on mainly fish, however birds, amphibians and crustaceans are all easy targets for them as well.
The Otter comes from a family know as Mustelidae, which includes Weasels, Badgers, Mink, Polecats, Stoats and Martins. Out of these the Otter is the only Semi-Aquatic member, as strong of a swimmer as they are though they can only hold their breath for around 30 seconds, so they rely on their excellent senses to locate their prey above water and then strike fast!
Otters have a gestation period of around 9 weeks, usually breeding in the Spring however they can breed all year round. Otters have to be very patient parents as their cubs won’t open their eyes until at least the four week mark and then they have to be ‘forced’ into their first swimming lesson. They will stay dependant on their parents until around the year and a half mark. They will then start to breed not long after that.
Otters will generally live in what is called a holt. Holts are found near land, usually where there is shallow water, be it a river or lake, or less frequently even salty water. Found on all but two continents in the World (Australasia and Antarctica) being the exceptions, Otters are a very well known predator.
Otters have become a popular discussion point for anglers, lake owners and the pond enthusiast. They tend to inhabit smaller rivers, and these are the ones being hit hard. With stock levels dwindling the Environment Agency and the Angling Trust are having to re-stock in higher numbers than ever before.
As a result of food being less available in their usual habitat, many otter populations have begun to look to lakes and garden ponds as food sources. A recent case of otter predation in an ornamental pond in Canada that gained a lot of attention highlights this problem. As this case and others show, an adult otter could make light work of a garden pond and could potentially clear it of all fish in one go!
The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) have joined up with the UK Wild Otter Trust to provide support for people affected by problems with otter predation. For full information and advice check the campaign page on the OATA website.