Southern River Otter: Habitat, Population & 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, you'll learn about the southern river otter, which has the smallest range of any otter species. We'll take a look at its habitat, population, and adaptations to its environment.

A Variable Habitat

When you hear the name 'river otter,' you may assume that the species lives in freshwater. After all, rivers are typically freshwater! However, a species name doesn't always tell the whole story. Take the southern river otter (Lontra provocax), for example. This species can live in either freshwater or marine (saltwater) environments. Southern river otters are medium sized, as far as otters go. They grow to be a little under four feet from nose to tail, and they are dark brown on top with a lighter underside.

Southern river otters can live in marine or freshwater habitats.
River otter

Marine-based southern river otters live along the coastline. They prefer protected areas, such as bays or canals set a little way back from the ocean. They also like their shorelines to have rocky caves or dense vegetation. This species also lives in freshwater and can be found along lakes, streams, ponds, and of course, rivers. The otters in freshwater habitats also prefer dense plant life for protection.

Geographic Region

Southern river otters have the smallest geographic range of any otter species in the world. They can only be found in South America. Specifically, they live in central and southern Chile and southern Argentina. The marine otters mostly live along the southern tip of this area. This region is covered by temperate forest.

The average home range of a single otter covers about seven miles. The details of their movements aren't well-known, but it is thought that there is not much territory overlap between same-sex otters. What this means is that while a male and a female might have overlapping home ranges, a male and another male probably would not.

Southern river otters only live in Chile and Argentina.
Southern river otter range

Declining Population

With such a small geographic range, it is easy to see that any habitat loss would be devastating for these creatures. As of 2000, southern river otters were listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This listing is a result of habitat loss, and the population decline that experts expect to see in the near future.

There is no exact population count for these otters. However, the population is declining as their habitat is destroyed and vegetation cleared for human construction projects, such as dredging new canals. Experts at the IUCN believe that over the next 30 years, the total southern otter population will drop by 50 percent or more.

Another issue is that these otters do not reproduce quickly. Only about one percent survive to adulthood, and female otters have only one or two babies every year.


However, while southern river otters face significant threats from humans, they have a number of adaptations that make them well suited for their natural environment. The first is that they have incredibly powerful little legs. These propel them through the water at high speeds to help them hunt. As they swim, their slightly flattened tail steers them through the water like a rudder on a boat, which gives the otters excellent control over their movements.

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