Species Spotlight: Giant Otter

Written by Gayne Young on January 26, 2016


By Capt Peacock

The largest of all the otter species, the aptly named Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is indigenous to Amazônia and frequently seen while fishing with Capt. Peacock despite the fact that it is considered to be one of the most endangered mammal species in the neotropics. As its name suggests, it is a large animal with males reaching upward of 5.6 feet in length and weights upwards of 71 pounds. Females tend to be smaller than the males, averaging between 3.5 – 5 feet in length and reaching weights between 50 to 60 pounds. Both males and females carry short fur that is chocolate to reddish brown in color yet appears black when wet. Most individuals carry at least some cream colored markings under the chin and along the belly. These markings are as individual as the animal and are thought to help in identification as adults tend to greet each other by “periscoping” or rising out of the water to expose chest and chin.

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Giant otters have a short muzzle and round, extremely small ears. The latter, along with its nostrils, close completely when underwater.  Its whiskers are long and extremely sensitive and are used to track changes in water current and pressure as well as to help in finding prey.  Despite this advantage, the giant otter is believed to hunt by sight.  Its hearing and smell are considered to be excellent.

An apex predator of the Rio Negro, giant otters prey on almost anything including fish, crabs, and small snakes and caiman. They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day only, and have no natural enemies.
Giant otters are extremely vocal and often bark and growl at anglers who invade their territory. They are not dangerous unless they feel threatened, find their young to be threatened, and or are cornered.

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Seeing a giant otter in the wild is considered good luck and a positive omen by some local tribes!

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