Ferret Family Tree: Lutrinae


This week’s blog is all about the subfamily lutrinae, which is mostly about otters. There are different genus within that lutrinae subfamily, just like the genus of mustela was all of our stoats and weasels.

We’re going to look at some of the different genus within the subfamily of lutrinae. So let’s crack on.


With all otter types within the subfamily lutrinae there are 13 species. And the thing that’s typical to all of them is that they have webbing between their feet. They are very much about the water. They’re used to being around water and some of them live entirely in water. But on the whole they spend a lot of the time in the water.

And for that reason, a lot of them can hold their breath for a long time underwater. And certainly they are more seal like than any of the other mustela.

They generally have a very long muscular tail, although the sea otter is an exception to that rule. They use their tails, as you’d imagine, for swimming. If you think of one of our lovely little ferrets, that tail is not what you’d call muscular, where otters have a lot more muscle going on there because that is working as one of their swimming appendages.

Another fact about otters is that they use tools that you’re probably familiar with and they will use stones in their day to day lives. They each have their own pet stone that they use to crack open shells. And they hold hands when they sleep 🥰 so they don’t float away from each other. Just divine.

They eat fish, frogs, amphibians and so on.


Now, on to the genus lutra. So the subfamily above that is lutrinae. And now we’re coming down to the genus lutra, which is our wonderful happy Eurasian Otter, which is the otter that we over here in Britain.

Now it’s found, as you might expect, in Europe, but it’s also found in parts of Asia and in parts of North Africa as well, which surprised me. They are strongly territorial and they eat mainly fish.

But this genus of lutra isn’t just our wonderful European otter, it’s also the hairy nosed otter as a separate species. So we’ve gone genus lutra and now we’ve got the species, which is our European otter, and there’s a species which is this hairy nosed otter. This little fella, unsurprisingly, has got a little hair on his nose. So basically the snout area generally has no fur on it. And it might be what you think of your wet nose on a dog or the dry nose on a cat. That very tip, on the hairy nosed otter, has tiny short hairs on it. They’re generally found in South East Asia so sadly we aren’t going to see them around here.


The next genus within this subfamily lutra is hydrictis. And that is the spotted neck otter.

These guys have little blotches of white or cream around their neck, under their chin and around their throat, their neck and their chest area. That’s what defines them. And I believe the rest of them is pretty much a dark brown colour.

These little ones aren’t as territorial as some of the other otters you will find. And they are found generally around lakes and some of the larger rivers in South Africa.


Next is the genus lutrogale. This is the smooth coated otter and it’s only found in the Indian subcontinent in Southeast Asia, but there’s also a really small isolated population in Iraq. Who knew? How did they get there? Do they migrate or have they been there the whole time?

With a short coated, smooth coated otter, the fur is a lot shorter and as you might expect, a lot smoother than some of the otters that we’ve looked at so far.


Next is the genus lontra. There are four species within this. You’ve got the North American river otter, which is found in North America around rivers, but only in the North American continent. You’ve got the Southern River Otter, which is in South America only and hangs around rivers. The Neotropical River Otter, which is also in South America only. And finally, you’ve got the marine otter, which is not to be confused with sea otter, which we’ll come to later because a marine otter is under this genus of lontra and a sea otter isn’t.

Now a marine otter, as you might imagine, is a salt water otter only, and that’s also found in South America. So basically this entire genus of otters are found mainly in the South Americas and one in North America, but all of them are only on that one land mass, none elsewhere.


This next one is both a favourite and a terrifying least favourite. Somehow I find them fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. So this is the genus pteronura and these guys are huge. This is the giant otter. Now if you want to be terrified and, and intrigued in equal measure, Google or YouTube giant otter and you will see some incredible videos of these giant otters ganging up on a jaguar or a cheetah. And then another one, they literally take down a crocodile. It is incredible.

These dudes can grow up to nearly two meters in length. They are very different to look at than any of the other otters. They’ve got a much, much flatter head and there’s something about their eyes – they seem to bulge, although they don’t in some pictures.

But I find all other must mustelidae very wonderful to look at. And I have to say I find the giant otter is slightly terrifying and not at all cute. As I say, they’re one of the longest mustelidae reaching around 1.8 meters. However, these guys are super social and they actually make the most noise out of all of the mustelidae with over nine different sounds having been identified. Some of them are babies keening because they want to be fed to communications about hunting.


The next genus is aonyx. This is mainly to do with clawless otters because onyx means claw and a means without.

I think they do have claws, but they’re so small that they hardly reach past the pads, which is why they’re termed clawless. So you’ve got the Asian small clawed otters and they’re one of the smallest of the otter species and live in some of the mangroves in Asia. You’ve got the African clawless otter, which is actually at the other end of the scale in that it’s the second largest of the freshwater otter species.

I find that really interesting that one of the smallest and one of the biggest are both within the same genus. And we find these in sub-Saharan Africa, as you might expect from an African clawless otter.

The final species in this genus of aonyx of clawless is the Congo which is found around the tropical belt of Africa. So all the countries around that tropical belt are where you’re going to find this Congo Clawless. Very little is actually known about this Congo Clawless Otter.


The last genus, which is enhydra, is the genus of the sea otter. What is incredible about the sea otter is that they can hold their breath for several minutes underwater. So they are seal like in that ability. And also a sea otter doesn’t actually have to come onto land. It can live its entire life at sea if it should wish, which is just incredible to say it’s a mammal.

However, it usually prefers near shore environments and it’ll dive to the sea floor to get sea urchin and such like, and will use rocks to crack open shells. It’s also what is called a keystone species, meaning that they help to keep control of other species within the same habitat. If that keystone species were to go extinct, it would totally change the habitat because the other populations would rise which would change everything else.

A sea otter is actually one of the heaviest of the otter families, but it’s actually one of the smallest of the marine mammals. And sadly they have been hunted for their fur greatly because their fur is very thick makes a great insulator. For this reason they are now classed as an endangered species.

Check out the video that goes with this blog and comment below if you have any questions or anything to add.

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