This month’s mammal is an Amazonian giant, measuring up to six feet long! Check out the world’s largest otter species.
As the name suggests, the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the largest member of the mustelid family, which includes otters, weasels, and ferrets. With a streamlined body and webbed feet, this mammal is an excellent swimmer well adapted to both terrestrial and freshwater environments. It is endemic to South America, living only in the Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata river systems.
The giant otter resides along slow-moving rivers or creeks, especially in areas adjacent to wetlands. It prefers habitat with high banks for denning, thick vegetation for cover, and high fish densities.
This mammal eats mostly fish and crustaceans, but will sometimes catch small caimans (a reptile related to alligators) and snakes. Their whiskers allow them to detect vibrations in the water column, helping them to locate prey. Efficient predators, the otters typically consume 6-9 pounds of food each day!
Giant otter with a fish © Tambako/Getty
Giant otters live in family groups, which include monogamous parents and offspring. They den by burrowing into banks or under fallen logs, establishing a home territory that they will aggressively defend.
A top predator in aquatic systems, this otter controls prey species population sizes to help keep river ecosystems in balance. It is also a good “indicator” species, meaning the population health of the giant otter is representative of the health of the entire ecosystem.
A family of giant otters in the Pantanal, Brazil © Magic Bones/Getty
The giant otter is endangered and considered extinct in Uruguay and likely extinct Argentina. The main threats to populations are habitat degradation, river contamination due to mining and agriculture, overharvesting of fish, and hunting for its skin.
Right now, ongoing fires in the Amazon threaten the giant otter and other endangered species. As the Brazilian rainforest burns, ash is produced and makes its way into bodies of water, along with sediment. Rivers lose forest cover, and water temperatures rise. The increased sedimentation, altered nutrients, water temperature, and dissolved oxygen changes the chemistry of the water, which can have profound effects on otters, their food source, and other aquatic organisms.
Experts expect a significant loss of wildlife due to these fires.
As flames burn through the Amazon, its inhabitants are at risk of losing their homes.
The fires in the Amazon are a direct result of increased deforestation. In fact, a scientific report released this month by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reveals critical overlap between deforestation and fire alerts.
The good news? You can fight deforestation today. Protecting habitat and preventing deforestation is one of Nature and Culture’s main priorities. And we’ve protected 20 million acres to date.
Join us in protecting habitat for the giant otter and other endangered creatures at natureandculture.org.