Otter: A river dwelling animal | Sunday Observer

Otter: A river dwelling animal

19 February, 2023

The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is the only species of its kind found in Sri Lanka. It is called Diya balla in Sinhala and Neer nai in Tamil: both translate as ‘water dog’.

The otter is a highly aquatic mammal. Its diet mainly consists of fish, but it also eats various types of birds, freshwater crabs, reptiles and frogs in addition to vegetation. They are, therefore, considered to be opportunistic feeders. Otters reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years and after a gestation of two months, produce a litter of 2-3 pups. They are usually solitary critters and prefer to be alone and the young leave their mother at maturity, although otters have been seen adopting orphaned pups from other litters. 

The Eurasian otter is found in the Arctic, in the Himalayas, Indonesian rainforest and in the Shetlands off the coast of Scotland. Zoologist at Open University Dr. Kalinda Padmalal said they are found everywhere even in the highlands in Sri Lanka. 

The Sri Lankan subspecies is smaller than those in Europe (Bergmann’s rule - cold weather subspecies tend to be bigger on average). 

Otters have stiff whiskers on their elbows to navigate. Otter poop called “spraint” is said to smell like jasmine. They are also among the few mammals that have a designated area to use for latrine purposes. 

Otters are very to water quality and avoid polluted water. Habitat loss is a huge threat to them. They have a thick layer of fur that enables them to survive and manage in an aquatic environment.

Otters are good swimmers and retain playfulness even as adults. They could be mistaken for the closely related mongoose or civet to an untrained eye, but they are unique nevertheless. India has three species of otter, but Sri Lanka has only one and it is much easier to spot in the island. 

Even though these fur-balls may be adorable to look at, few actually witness them in real life because they prefer to come out at night.

Jetwing Vil Uyana is one of the few places that it is easy to spot them, according to former Experiential Manager Chaminda Jayasekara.