Taxon Group: 


Scientific Name: 

Lutra lutra 


Milk chocolate brown fur (darker when wet) with a slightly pale underside. Long slender body and long thick tapering tail. Small ears on a broad head.Adults often a metre or more in length. Swims low in water with top of head and back only just visible and a V-shaped bow wave. When walking/running on land has marked 'hump-back' appearance.

Field Signs:
Download a printable field sign guide here!

Tracks can be found in sand and mud (and snow) alongside rivers and streams. They are five-toed, but often only four toes appear in the print. The large, round prints (5-7cm in width, 6-9cm in length) are often pushed deep into the clay providing clear ID field signs.

Otters leave spraints (droppings) on rocks or logs close to water. They contain mainly fish shells, bones, shells of crustaceans, feathers or fur. Highly variable in size.

Colour: greenish, black-grey.

Smell: Sweet smelling; jasmine tea or laurel flowers. Often found in small quantities.


Found throughout Scotland and Wales. Have spread southwards and eastwards in England, now found in nearly every county. Found across Ireland. (Maps are based on expert advice, as of 2007. Some species ranges may have changed in the time since. We are currently in the process of updating the maps.)


Opportunistic predator, feeding mostly on fish (usually small-medium sized bottom dwelling species). Other prey includes crustaceans, amphibians, water birds, ducks, water voles and rabbits.


Usually 5 years, can be up to 10 years.

Confusion species: 

American mink (Neovison vison)
Dark brown coat, compared to otter's lighter mid-brown coat. Mink is same colour all over, except for a white chin, whilst otter has a paler underside. Cylindrical, fluffy, blunt tail, not muscular and tapering like the otter. Pointed muzzle and smaller than a domestic cat. Otter has a broader muzzle and is larger than a cat. 

Beaver (Castor fiber)
Broad, flat tail, unlike the long, muscular, tapering tail of the otter. The beaver's broader rodent muzzle is less pointed than the otter's carnivore muzzle. Beaver has a stockier body, compared to the long body of the otter. 

Derek Crawley, Staffordshire Mammal Group, says:

"Seeing an otter in the wild is quite often by chance; many professional surveyors never get to see one. Lakes are easier than rivers, as you can watch a greater amount of water at one time and, although animals can be seen at any time of the day, dawn and dusk will increase your chances of seeing them. It is also easier if there is a family in an area as they are more likely to be seen in the same location time and time again."