Neotropical Otter: Habitat & Facts

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 discuss the neotropical otter. It includes information about its habitat and other interesting facts about this fascinating creature.

An Otter of Many Names

Do you have any nicknames? Maybe you sometimes go by your middle name instead of your first name. Some species of animals have multiple names too, including the neotropical otter. The neotropical otter is also called the South American river otter, the long-tailed otter, and the La Plata otter. This last might be because the tail of a neotropical otter is sometimes as long as, or longer than, its body.

That's quite a handful of names! You could also call it by its scientific name, which is Lontra longicaudis.


The neotropical otter mostly lives in fairly warm climates, though it has been found in very high elevations. The northern part of their range starts in Mexico, extends south into South America, and ends in northern Argentina. It is not present in Chile, or in some of the drier areas of South America, but in general it is prevalent across the continent.

Habitat Types

This geographic range covers a wide variety of habitat types, and the neotropical otter is found in rainforests, evergreen forests, rocky beaches, and coastlines. Neotropical otters always live near water as it spends quite a bit of its time there. This can be either salt or fresh water, as the neotropical otter swims in both.

Typically, otters will build themselves dens, or tunneled-out cave areas, near a body of water. Sometimes they will use an existing cave as a shelter, including rock formations, eroded areas of the riverbank, or shelters formed by tree roots. The neotropical otters are one of the few species of otter that use existing caves as a den site.

The Neotropical otter is found throughout much of South America
Neotropical otter sketch

Interesting Facts

Physical Description

The neotropical otter is an average-sized otter species. They weigh in at around 25 pounds. That's about the same as a small to medium sized dog.

Neotropical otters can grow to be more than three feet long, and in some cases almost half of that is their tail! Their whole build, including their sleek shape, waterproof fur, and webbed toes, help the otter swim and hunt in the water.


This otter species is listed as endangered in CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This means it is protected from hunting and illegal trading. Unfortunately poachers, or illegal hunters, can be difficult to track and arrest. This makes protecting endangered species very difficult.

Historically, the neotropical otter has been hunted for its fur. Hundreds of thousands of otter furs were exported from South America during the 1950s-1970s, the period when most hunting took place. However, thanks to current protection for endangered species, hunting is no longer at that level, and the otters have a chance to recover.

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