Blog by: Ciara Laverty
Have you ever been lucky enough to see an otter? These elusive mammals are notoriously difficult to spot and it is more commonplace to see the signs they leave behind rather than the otters themselves!
Look for prints alongside streams, rivers and in the soft sand on the Lough shore. Otter prints are quite distinctive: 5 rounded toes topped with a pointed nail, webbing between the toes and a long heel. Often on harder ground only 4 toes may show but you can still tell an otter print from a dog’s as the 4 toes will be off centre to the heel mark on an otter print.
Another key sign to look out for is otter spraint or poo! When the spraint is fresh it is moist and black but dries and turns a grey colour as it ages. It is commonly said that otter spraint smells like jasmine tea… but I’ve never gotten that close to find out!
Spraints are a great insight into the diet of your local otter! Otters prey on salmonoids like salmon or trout, eels and smaller fish like sticklebacks but they’re opportunists and will also feed on crustaceans, amphibians and even birds! If you look closely at an otter’s spraint, you’ll be able to see the undigested fish scales, bones or feathers!
Eurasian otters are perfectly adapted for a semi-aquatic life. They are excellent swimmers due to their long, flexible bodies, short limbs and a tail that is used like a rudder. Otters rely on their dense fur to insulate against cold water temperatures. They have long, sensitive whiskers which allow them to hunt in dark, murky waters. Eurasian otters are found on the coast as well as freshwater, an otter seen on the coast is the same species that you’ll find inland!
Otters usually have 2-3 cubs in a litter, they give birth in a holt – a secure den which can be a crevice under a tree root system or a hole in a riverbank. The cubs usually stay with their mother for around 6 months before dispersing to form their own territories. The Eurasian otter is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
The Otter has always been one of my favourite mammal species, and it is such a rewarding experience to encounter otters in the wild. I have used camera traps which have picked up otters in my local vicinity. They are a great tool to find out about the secretive lives of the wildlife on your doorstep and create minimal disturbance. Otters can have large territories and may only pass by an area every so often so camera traps are useful as they can be left out weeks at a time!