Spot-necked otter (Lutra maculicollis)

Also known as: Speckle-throated otter, spotted-necked otter
Synonyms: Hydrictis maculicollis
  
French: Loutre À Cou Tacheté
Spanish: Nutria De Cuello Manchado
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyMustelidae
GenusLutra (1)
SizeHead-body length: 58 - 69 cm (3)
Weight3 - 5 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The spot-necked otter owes its name to the mottled blotches of creamy-white markings typically visible on its neck and chest (2) (5). Dense, water-repellent fur, ranging in colour from chocolate to reddish brown, covers its long, sinuous body (2) (5) (6). More aquatic than other African otters, this species has fully webbed paws with sharp, well-developed claws. Its short, broad muzzle conceals relatively small teeth, adapted for catching fish rather than the hardy crustaceans favoured by the clawless otters (Aonyx sp.) (2) (5). The long, fully-haired tail tapers to a point and is horizontally flattened (3) (5).

The spot-necked otter has a sub-Saharan distribution stretching from Guinea Bissau in the west to south-west Ethiopia in the east, and southwards as far as eastern South Africa (1). Although present in most countries within this large geographic area, it is notably absent from large parts of Southern Africa (1) (5).

Permanent sources of unpolluted freshwater with high densities of fish are necessary to support spot-necked otters. Areas of open water such as large lakes, rivers and swamps are preferred and dense marginal vegetation such as reeds, grass and bushes is important for cover (1) (5).

With webbed feet making trips onto land somewhat awkward, the spot-necked otter, unlike the clawless otters, rarely ventures more than ten metres from water (2) (6). Instead, most of the daytime, when this otter is most active, is spent in shallow waters where fish are abundant. Fish comprise the bulk of the spot-necked otters’ prey, with species of cichlid, barbel and catfish being particular favourites. Other prey such as crabs, frogs and insects are only important when fish are scarce, except in South Africa where these groups form a much more significant component of its diet (2). Although spot-necked otters sometimes form large groups of up to 20, individuals normally hunt for food alone (2) (5) (6). Whilst hunting, this otter performs short, agile dives from the surface, twisting and turning energetically to catch prey with its mouth, which is then eaten in the water or taken to the shore (2).

The spot-necked otter is not territorial, but like other otter species it tends to urinate and defecate in a regular place, such as a rock just above the waters’ surface. During the night, when this species is largely inactive, it will take shelter in concealed places such as dense vegetation, rock cavities or dens dug into the shore bank (2).

Breeding takes place at different times of the year across the spot-necked otters’ range, with between one and three cubs born after a gestation period of around three months (2) (3). The young are born blind and remain with their mother, who provides all the parental care, for up to a year (2)

Unfortunately, throughout its range the population of spot-necked otters is declining as a consequence of a broad range of human activities (1) (5). The foremost of these are pollution and general degradation of freshwater habitats associated with agriculture. In parts of its range the spot-necked otter is also persecuted for food and fur or even just because it is considered a competitor for fish (1) (2) (5). Furthermore, in large water bodies such as Lake Victoria, introduced alien fish may be out-competing the spot-necked otter for the smaller indigenous fish on which it depends (1) (5).

Despite current concerns, the spot-necked otter still has a colossal range and the rate of population decline is not considered to be too severe. Furthermore, it is known to be present in a number of protected areas across its range. Consequently, this otter is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1). Nonetheless, in order to prevent its conservation status from becoming more critical, existing legislation, which protects the spot-necked otter from exploitation, needs to be enforced and greater awareness needs to be fostered amongst local communities (5).

 

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    1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
      http://www.iucn.org
    2. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    3. Larivière, S. (2002) Lutra maculicollis. Mammalian Species, 712: 1 - 6.
    4. CITES (September, 2008)
      http://www.cites.org
    5. IUCN Otter Specialist Group (January, 2009)
      http://www.otterspecialistgroup.org/Species/Lutra_maculicollis.html
    6. Kruuk, H.A. (2006) Otters: ecology, behaviour, and conservation. Oxford University Press, Oxford.