Asian Small-clawed Otters

(Aonyx cinereus)

The Asian small-clawed otter has deep brown fur. The sides of the neck and head are brown, but its cheeks, upper lip, chin, throat, and sides of the neck are whitish. Its skull is short, and the naked rhinarium rounded above. The muzzle has long coarse vibrissae on either side. Its eyes are located toward the front of the head. The small ears are oval-shaped with an inconspicuous tragus and antitragus. Its paws are narrow with short digits that are webbed to the last joint. There are short hairs on the lower sides of the interdigital webs. The four-lobed plantar pads are longer than wide. The claws are short and in some individuals even absent. Females have four mammary glands.

Asian small-clawed otters are found in southern India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These otters live in small streams, rivers, marshes, rice paddies, seacoasts and in mangroves.

In the wild the otters eat primarily crustaceans and mollusks but will also eat fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles. Asian small-clawed otters use their forepaws rather than their mouth to locate and capture food items. Incomplete webbing between the toes gives them a great deal of manual dexterity. They have sensitive digital pads that help them feel under rocks or in murky water for food. They dig in sand and mud at the shoreline for various types of shellfish and crabs. To get at the meat, they either crush the shell by hand or let heat from the sun open the shells. Their teeth are broad and robust, well suited for crushing shells.

They groom their fur continually to maintain the insulating qualities. They are excellent swimmers, swimming by moving their back legs and tail. After swimming or feeding, they tend to rub against logs and vegetation in the area in order to leave their scent, a form of ‘scent marking’. These otters also use scent markings as an important form of communication. With paired scent glands at the base of the tail, otters emit an intensely musky smell that can delineate territory and communicates information concerning identity, sex, sexual receptivity and time elapsed between scenting visits. They tend to defecate or spray in communal latrine areas to pass on this information. Asian small-clawed otters are a very vocal species and have a vocabulary of at least twelve different vocalizations. Vocalizations are used for contact, summons, greeting, threat and alarm calls and can occur visually, chemically, or through tactile cues such as social grooming, hormonal changes and posturing.

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