There is one mammal in Scotland that mainly people hope to catch a glimpse of diving or lounging on seaweed, the Otter. Here at Speyside Wildlife, we love to explore our rivers and coastlines for these unique mammals as they are always great to watch. If you follow our Facebook page you will have seen a recent video from our frozen marshes.
Otter on frozen marsh (Kate M)
What is an Otter?
There are thirteen different species of Otters around the world, but the UK is home to the Eurasian. The Eurasian Otter (Lutra Lutra) is a member of the mustelid family of mammals and is the largest in the family group. Other members of the mustelids include Stoat, Weasel, Pine Marten and Badgers. The Otter is a semi-aquatic mammal meaning it can be found in our fresh water and sea looking for food but live on land too. Otters have long slender bodies and long pointed tails. They are a chocolate brown colour, and their coats are waxy to withhold water, with webbed feet to swim and dive for food.
What do they eat?
They have a large diet depending on which environment they live in. They eat fish, shellfish, eel, crustaceans, small mammals, birds and amphibians. Round our coastline, they feed mainly on fish but you will often see them climbing out onto seaweed with crab and octopus, which certainly give them something to get their teeth into.
Otter (Sarah Sharland)
Where do they live?
Animals homes are all known by a name, birds have nests, Badgers have setts, Rabbits have burrows. Otters live in holts that are located anywhere from old tree stumps, riverbanks, rocky areas, and this will be where they have their cubs in the Summer.
Where to see Otters?
They can be found on a lot of waterways both inland and round our coats. Our freshwater rivers like the Spey and River Ness are great places to look as well as quiet lochs and small rivers of burns. They are much more elusive in these places as they need to travel to larger areas to find food. The Otters that are found around our saltwater coastlines love to feed in bays or quiet shores that have access to seaweed and rocks to rest and feed on.
Otter prints in snow (Sally Nowell)
Signs to look out for
They are elusive mammals, often only seen in early mornings or when the tide is right for them to fish and eat. Even when not successful in finding an Otter there are ‘field’ signs to look out for, that reveal their presence. Along sandy shores or on fresh snow, their webbed feet make quite an impression with a thin heel and five toes pads at the front with webbing in between. Recently, guide Sally found quite a few footprints in the snow near her house. Otter will leave spraints on their territory borders to warn other mammals away. These are scatt/poo that has a very musky fishy smell and you will often find them on top of rocks on riverbanks and along the coastline.
If you love Otters as much as we do, you may want to choose one of our day guides or holidays where we try to look for these often-elusive mammals. Some of our holidays this year like The Wild Hebrides, Mull and Kintyre, Shetland and Orkney, Inner Hebrides, Islay and Jura and Mull in Autumn also have great opportunities to find the Otter.