Oriental Small-Clawed Otter

Oriental Small-Clawed Otter

Asian small-clawed otter, Oriental short-clawed otter, Asian short-clawed otter, Malaysian small-clawed otter, Malaysian short-clawed otter, Asian clawless otter, Small clawed otter, Small-clawed otte

Aonyx cinerea
Population size
Life Span
11-16 years
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus ), also known as the oriental small-clawed otter and the small-clawed otter, is an otter species native to South and Southeast Asia. It has short claws that do not extend beyond the pads of its webbed digits. With a total body length of 730 to 960 mm (28.6 to 37.6 in), it is the smallest otter species in the world.

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The Asian small-clawed otter lives in riverine habitats, freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps. It feeds on molluscs, crabs and other small aquatic animals. It lives in pairs, but was also observed in family groups with up to 12 individuals.

It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and is threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and in some areas also by hunting.

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Oriental small-clawed otters are the smallest of the otter species. Their name comes from their very small claws. This species relies on their dexterous and sensitive fingers to forage for prey, and so lack the long claws most otters have. Due to this, there is also less webbing between the digits than other otters have. These small animals, of no more than several pounds in weight and no longer than a common rat, have gray/brown fur (with a lighter coloration on their underside, neck and face). Their slender, almost serpentine build is complemented by a large tail. They have stubby legs and blunt faces.




The Oriental small-clawed otter inhabits coastal regions in southern India to southern China and the Malay Peninsula. They adapt to a range of aquatic habitats from freshwater rivers and creeks to tropical coastal wetlands, from mountain streams to rice paddies.

Oriental Small-Clawed Otter habitat map

Climate zones

Oriental Small-Clawed Otter habitat map
Oriental Small-Clawed Otter
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Habits and Lifestyle

These otters are the most social amongst the otter species and live in extended family groups numbering 12-20 individuals. These animals are diurnal (active during the day), inhabiting in remote areas, generally free of human disturbance, though some have adapted to living near villages. They groom their fur continually to maintain the insulating qualities. They are excellent swimmers, swimming by moving their back legs and tail. After swimming or feeding, they tend to rub against logs and vegetation in the area in order to leave their scent, a form of 'scent marking'. They usually rest and sleep on land either in their dens or somewhere above ground, often sleeping in areas of moderate disturbance. Oriental small-clawed otters are often seen playing in water (this is observable at zoos) and sliding down muddy banks in regions they frequently visit. They defend their territory by scratching, working and occasionally fighting.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Oriental small-clawed otters are carnivores (molluscivores), they eat frogs, crabs, shellfish and crayfish.

Mating Habits

60 days
1-6 pups
14 weeks
whelp, pup

Oriental small-clawed otters will form a monogamous pair for life. The alpha pair is the only one that breeds and the previous offspring help with raising the young. Breeding occurs throughout the year, two litters per year sometimes produced. After gestation of 60 days the litter of 1-6 (average 2) is born in their nesting burrow in the muddy riverbank. The males help make the nest burrow and bring food once the pups are born. Pups are relatively undeveloped when born, with eyes closed and weighing only two ounces (50 gm). The first few weeks are spent nursing every 3-4 hours. They open their eyes at around 40 days and venture outside after about 10 weeks. Pups begin eating solid food at around 80 days, and weaning takes place at about 14 weeks. They can swim when about 3 months old. Young reach their adult size after about 6 months.


Population threats

The biggest threat today that faces the Oriental small-clawed otter is habitat destruction as people encroach into and drain wetland areas that these small mammals need to survive. Habitat fragmentation will eventually increase risk of inbreeding and the overall breeding success and genetic vigor. Oriental short-clawed otters have been hunted for their dense, velvety pelts, which like those of all otters, are dense with a velvety texture. Hunting is not, however, the main cause of the dwindling numbers.

Population number

No estimate of population size is available for Oriental small-clawed otters. According to the Woodland Park Zoo resource, the total population size of the species might be around 5,000 otters. Currently Oriental small-clawed otters are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Oriental small-clawed otters may impact the populations of shellfish and crustaceans in their area.

Fun Facts for Kids

    The dense fur of these otters has as many as 450,000 hairs per square inch.
  • An otters is the only truly amphibious member of the weasel family.
  • Each otter has a scent that is as individual as our fingerprints.
  • In the Harry Potter stories, Hermione has a patronus charm which is otter shaped.
  • Otter species inhabit every continent apart from Australia and Antarctica.
  • Indian fishermen have trained these otters to catch fish.
  • When they swim, otters close their ears and nostrils.
  • Small-clawed otters can make around a dozen calls, one being a distress call for if they're in trouble and want help.
  • Otters are very clever. One example of this is that they leave crab in the sun so that their shells will crack open.


1. Oriental Small-Clawed Otter Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_small-clawed_otter
2. Oriental Small-Clawed Otter on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/44166/0

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