Locomotion of the Giant Otter

The information below comes from Duplaix (1980), Chanin (1985), Harris (1968), Otternet, Frankfurt Zoological Society Giant Otter Project and personal observation.

In Water

In the water, Giant Otters are fluid, graceful swimmers. The slow swimming method is a four-legged paddle, with the tail stationary. When swimming rapidly, the paws are held back close to the body, and the whole body and tail undulates. The forepaws are fanned open and used during turning, and the big back feet are used to give extra push. Normal swimming speeds are around 4m/sec and dive lengths average 20 sec.

For looking around, the otters porpoise, or periscope, with their heads and necks out of the water, paddling with their forepaws and bobbing up and down. Cubs find this hard till their swimming muscles develop.

On Land

On land, Giant Otters are awkward and clumsy. They do not trot or jump (Duplaix reports a captive otter that climbed a 2m fence and fell to its death), and unlike other otters, they do not slide for fun.

When walking, the head is held low, the back is hunched, and the last third of the tail is held curved up clear of the ground. Despite this, however, the otters may travel a considerable distance between water bodies, tending to use well-worn paths. Follow this link to see some tracks.

Giant Otters speed up directly into the gallop-bound, which is not very fast, but is very noisy as their large feet slap against the ground.

When going up or down slopes, the otters proceed slowly and carefully; they slide down headfirst, with all four paws splayed as brakes.

The tripod-sit, often done in captivity, is seldom seen in the wild, being replaced by the porpoise/periscope in the water.

Giant Otter