Asian Small-Clawed Otter: Habitat, Breeding & Adaptations

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson we'll take a look at the unique Asian small-clawed otter. You'll learn about their habitat, their breeding and reproduction, and some interesting adaptations.

Asian Small-Clawed Otter

When you think about animal feet, especially small mammals like otters and cats, what characteristics do you think of? You probably pictured them as having claws, right? Well, one species is known for having such small claws that they are almost non-existent. This is the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea), and you can see from the name that its small claws are a defining feature. The claws of this otter barely extend beyond the toe, and this certainly sets them apart from other otter species.

The Asian small-clawed otter is very appropriately named
Asian small-clawed otter


Asian small-clawed otters, also known as oriental small-clawed otters, have a fairly wide geographic range. They can be found along the coasts of southern India, China, and southeast Asia. Though they live close to the coast, they do not have to be near salt water. These otters also live near freshwater rivers and streams, and sometimes in rice paddies, which are filled with water. They are semi-aquatic, which means they spend a lot of time in the water, but they also come onto land.

Asian small-clawed otters prefer areas with a lot of vegetation, and they avoid habitats that do not provide enough cover. They build nests by digging tunnels into the muddy banks of their rivers. These tunnels go into the side of the bank and end in a cave-like den.


This species of otter is monogamous, which means they have only one mate, and they mate for life. They are able to breed after they are about one and a half years old, and breeding can happen at any time of year. Just like humans, female otters have a monthly cycle that is unaffected by changing seasons.

Asian small-clawed otters have a gestation period (the amount of time the female carries the babies before giving birth) of around two months. They usually only have one or two babies at a time, though they can have up to six. It is also possible for them to have up to two litters in a single year.

Both male and female small-clawed otters help build the nests and care for the babies. Males are often responsible for getting food after the babies are born, while the mother watches them. Baby small-clawed otters are born completely dependent, and don't even open their eyes until they are over a month old! To be specific, they open their eyes when they are about 40 days old. After that it is another two months until they are able to swim.

Asian small-clawed otters mate for life
Two Asian small-clawed otters


This species of otter has several adaptations that make it well-suited for its environment. One of the most distinctive is its feet. In addition to having small claws, Asian small-clawed otters also have less webbing on their toes than most otters do. This makes their paws more flexible, so they can more easily grab things. In fact, these otters use their front paws to feel around in the mud underwater and pick up food, which many otters do not do.

In addition, small-clawed otters have strong paws and teeth. This makes it easier for them to crush the shells of their prey. They mostly eat shellfish like clams and mussels, so this strength is very important.

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