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Species Spotlight: Smooth-Coated Otter Behaviour


The Smooth-Coated Otter is a captivating and intriguing creature with a broad array of diverse and fascinating behaviours. This semi-aquatic mammal, now an integral part of Singapore’s aquatic ecosystems, exhibits a range of behaviours that are not only enthralling to researchers dedicated to studying them but also to wildlife enthusiasts who follow their antics on social media pages dedicated to these popular otters. Let’s embark on a detailed exploration of the unique and exciting world of the Smooth-Coated Otter.

Foraging Behaviour

Smooth-Coated Otters are known for being remarkably adept and skilled in foraging. Their ability to sustain themselves in the wild is, to a significant extent, dependent on their aquatic habitats. These environments, especially the mangroves, are teeming with life and offer them a diverse array of food sources. While they are omnivorous by nature, fish is clearly their preferred choice of sustenance, making up the majority of their diet.

These intelligent creatures are equipped with an impressive set of tools that enable them to become efficient hunters. One of their most notable features is their sensitive whiskers, which play an integral role in their hunting strategy. These whiskers are so finely tuned that they can detect even the slightest movements of potential prey in the water, even in total darkness or muddy water.

Upon sensing a prey, the otters do not hesitate. With a swift and accurate lunge, they launch themselves at their unsuspecting target, capturing it within their powerful jaws. This display of hunting prowess, a testament to their survival skills, is a sight to behold, underscoring their place at the top of the food chain within their habitat.

Resting Behaviour

After an active and busy period of hunting and foraging, these energetic otters require a well-deserved rest. They typically choose to rest on their backs, often selecting a comfortable spot on a riverbank or a partially submerged log. During these periods, the otters are not in a deep sleep but rather enter a state of semi-alertness. They remain vigilant and prepared to dive back into the safety of the water at the first hint of danger.

Grooming Behaviour

Grooming is an integral part of the otters’ daily routines. They meticulously groom their fur to maintain its waterproof properties and insulation. This grooming also appears to have a social dimension as otters often engage in mutual grooming, especially within their family units, strengthening their social bonds.

Social Behaviour

The Smooth-Coated Otters, as their name suggests, are known for the smooth, sleek texture of their fur, but perhaps what’s more fascinating about these creatures is their highly social behaviour. These otters don’t just live together, they form close-knit family groups that exhibit a level of camaraderie and cooperation that is truly remarkable.

Their daily routines are filled with playful activities that may seem frivolous at a glance, but these interactions play a vital role in their social development. One such activity is playing chase. This serves to improve their speed and agility and also presents an opportunity for play and bonding.

Engagement in play-fights is another common sight among these otters. These playful skirmishes, often mistaken for actual fights, are not about establishing dominance but rather about strengthening their social bonds and learning to communicate effectively with each other.

Previously, we touched upon the topic of social grooming, a behaviour that is also found in many other social animals. In the case of the Smooth-Coated Otters, this grooming is not just about maintaining their sleek coats but also serves as a tool for further reinforcing their familial bonds. It’s a chance for these otters to care for each other, to strengthen their bonds, and to reaffirm their roles within the group. These social interactions, as playful or mundane as they may seem, are integral to the survival and prosperity of these fascinating creatures.


Smooth-Coated Otters, which are known for their playful nature, exhibit a drastic change in behaviour when it comes to the mating season or territorial disputes. During these periods, these otherwise social creatures display aggressive behaviours that can be quite surprising. This aggression is primarily observed during these specific times and is a necessary part of their survival and reproduction strategies. The aggression might manifest in a range of actions that serve to either assert dominance or protect their territories. This can include behaviours such as biting, which is a direct and confrontational display of aggression, or chasing, which serves to intimidate or ward off potential threats. Another form of aggression they display is body slamming, a physical assertion of power and control. These behaviours, while seemingly violent, are crucial for these otters to maintain their territories and ensure successful reproduction. They serve to ward off intruders and protect their territory, ensuring the survival of their lineage.


Otters, which are renowned for their diverse and unique vocalizations that span a variety of calls and songs, have a complex communication system. Their complex repertoire of sounds is not just for show, but plays a crucial role in their social interaction and cohesion within the group. This is particularly evident in the relationship between otter mothers and their pups. The use of these vocalizations facilitates a deep bonding process between them, and enables effective communication, making it easier for them to express their needs and respond to each other. Therefore, these sounds, while fascinating to human observers, serve a vital function in the otters’ social structure and survival.


Smooth-Coated Otters, known for their versatility, exhibit a wide array of locomotion techniques that reflect their adaptability to different environments. When in their aquatic habitats, they transform into expert swimmers demonstrating a masterful control over their movements. Their webbed feet, which are a key adaptation for their semi-aquatic lifestyle, and their powerful, muscular tails work in unison to provide propulsion, allowing them to navigate the water with remarkable ease and speed. Surprisingly, their agility is not confined to water alone. On land, these fascinating creatures exhibit nimble movements by walking or running on all fours. Their physical dexterity enables them to traverse through a variety of terrestrial landscapes with the same proficiency they display in water.

Reproductive Behaviour

In the thick of the mating season, male otters showcase a variety of charming courtship displays. This elaborate behaviour serves as an effective strategy to entice and win over potential female partners. The male otters’ performances range from gentle touches to synchronized swimming, all done with the intention of catching the attention of a mate. The actual act of mating typically takes place in the tranquil water, a natural environment for these aquatic creatures. After enduring a gestation period of approximately 60 days – a relatively short span for mammals – the expectant female otter gives birth. The arrival of a litter of adorable pups marks a significant event, as it signifies the addition of new members to the otter family. This cycle of life perpetuates the survival of the species, a testament to the fascinating life of otters.

Home Range and Territorial Behaviour

Smooth-Coated Otters are notably territorial creatures. They establish and mark their territories using scent from their anal glands as a warning to other otters. The size of an otter’s territory can vary significantly, depending on factors such as the availability of food and suitable den sites.

Holt Building Behaviour

One of the most fascinating aspects of otter behaviour is their ability to construct intricate dens, which are commonly referred to as holts. These dwellings are typically located within the confines of riverbanks. Otters display a remarkable understanding of the resources available in their environment when gathering materials for their holts. They utilize a wide variety of elements, including mud, vegetation, and small branches, which they skillfully assemble to form their homes. What’s particularly interesting is the level of thought that goes into the selection of the holt’s location. They don’t just pick any spot; rather, they choose locations that offer maximum safety from predators. Moreover, the chosen location is always in close proximity to food sources, ensuring that the otters have easy access to sustenance, thereby allowing them to conserve energy for other important survival activities.


The vibrant world of the Smooth-Coated Otter is a captivating one, brimming with complex behaviours and intricate social interactions. By observing and understanding these behaviours, we can develop a deeper respect and appreciation for these remarkable creatures and gain insight into their crucial role in our ecosystem.

Photos of Smooth-Coated Otter Behaviour

An adult smooth-coated otter yawns as it emerges from a nap inside a holt on a riverbank in Singapore.

A young smooth-coated otter rolls on its back while resting on a mangrove beach in Singapore.

Smooth-coated otter grooming

Smooth-coated otter grooming on a mangrove beach after waking up from a daytime nap.

A smooth-coated otter pup rests on a mangrove beach, Singapore

A smooth-coated otter pup rests on a mangrove beach, Singapore

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Singapore by Tim Plowden

A pair of smooth-coated otter playfully interact while resting on a beach.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Singapore by Tim Plowden

Smooth coated otter family play together on a beach in Singapore.

Smooth-coated otter brings fish to shore to eat

Smooth-coated otter brings fish to shore to eat accompanied by family members.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Singapore by Tim Plowden

Smooth-coated otter cubs investigate the scent of their spraint next to the coast.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata)

As the otter family swim along the coast to one end of their territory they regularly encounter and interact with feral dogs.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Singapore by Tim Plowden

A 3-4 month old otter cub learns to hunt by playing with a fish caught for it by an adult. It uses its eyes to place the fish in front of its mouth and it blows bubbles to smell the fish. The whiskers are used to detect the beating tail of the fish as well as to feel.

The otter family leaves the river to spraint in the park.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Singapore by Tim Plowden

Smooth-coated otters don't need any encouragement to play fight.

Smooth-coated otter calls to its family members as it swims in a river.

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