At around 24 inches long and weighing between 6 and 12 pounds, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter species. They live 8 to 10 years in the wild on average, but can live twice as long in captivity. \As their name suggests, they have small claws on their partially webbed front paws. These physical traits mean these otters grasp prey with their paws, unlike other otter species that use their mouths. Sensitive whiskers and sharp eyes also help these carnivorous animals find food.
In the wild, Asian small-clawed otters live in southeast Asia in areas where land and water exist in equal amounts. They swim and hunt in freshwater and saltwater rivers, streams, lakes and shallow coastal waters. These otters also hunt in rice paddies. The rice farmers tolerate the otters’ presence because they eat crayfish that can destroy the rice crop.
Asian small-clawed otters hunt their prey in water and on land. In the water, they prey on fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Wild Asian small-clawed otters are particularly fond of crabs. On land, they hunt frogs, birds, eggs and other small prey. They are energetic and fast moving, and are able to prey on animals twice their size.
Diet in Captivity
In captivity, zookeepers add a broader variety of meat and seafood than would be available to these otters in their natural habitat. The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois feeds their Asian small-clawed otters crickets, fish and cat food. The Australia Zoo adds treats for their otters, such as peanuts and corn.
Asian small-clawed otters are considered a “near threatened” species. Regional farmers are reclaiming swamps and mangroves to build coffee and tea plantations, which destroys otter habitats. Water pollution also threatens the otters by damaging their health and reducing varieties of fish and other species otters eat. Human hunting threatens these otters as well. There is demand for their pelts, and southeast Asians harvest their organs for medicinal reasons. The Brookfield Zoo, along with other zoos, has a program to breed their Asian small-clawed otters in hopes of saving the species.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.