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Overview

Distribution

Lontra longicaudis is present from Northwestern Mexico, south into South America; it is the most common otter in Mexico and has the widest distribution of the three S. American Lontra species.

The range extends into Uruguay, Paraguay, and across northern Argentina.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

  • Lariviere, S. 1999. Lontra longicaudis. Mammalian Species, 609: 1-5.
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Range Description

Lontra longicaudis occurs from northwestern Mexico south to Uruguay (Gallo 1991), Paraguay, and across the northern part of Argentina to Buenos Aires province (Chehebar 1990; Cockrum 1964; Redford and Eisenberg 1992). It is widespread in the northern and central parts of Argentina (Bertonatti and Parera 1994).
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Historic Range:
South America

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Physical Description

Morphology

Lontra longicauda generally weighs less than 12 kilograms. Sexually dimorphic in size, the males average 20-25% larger than the females (Lariviere 1999).

L. longicauda is also known as the Neotropical otter. Head and body length can be 360-660 mm, length of the tail 370-840 mm, length of the hind foot 94-144 mm, and length of the ear ranges from 18-22 mm (Lariviere 1999).

Some average measurements of the long, flat skull include: basal length about 96.4 mm, zygomatic breadth 68.1mm, and postorbital breadth averaging 17.9 mm. The head is small and flat, bearing small eyes and short, round ears. The otter's neck is thicker than the head (Lariviere 1999).

The Neotropical otter has short, dense, sleek pelage, which is described as a lustrous grayish-brown. This otter is slightly paler ventrally, especially on the throat. On its face, the upper lip, mandible, and tip of the muzzle are silvery white to yellowish. The muzzle appears broad. The tail is long, wide, and quite thick at the base. It tapers to a point. The legs are short and stout, and the toes on all the otter's feet are webbed (Lariviere 1999).

Females have four nipples on the abdomen. The males have a well-developed baculum with a total length of around 72 mm. It has a small ventral groove, shallow at the proximal end and running deeper at the distal end (Lariviere 1999).

Range mass: 5 to 15 kg.

Range length: 360 to 660 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Lontra longicaudis generally shelters in a self-excavated burrow near permanent lakes or streams. They depend on a water environment with plenty of riparian vegetation (Nowak 1999).

One study looked at the use of shelters by the Neotropical river otter in Brazil, along the Betari River, between August 1993 and December 1994. There were several different types of shelters frequented by the otters. These shelter types include: a cavity among stones, cavity under tree roots, limestone dissolution cavity, cavity in a rocky wall, space among vegetation, and excavated burrows. The most common type of shelter used by the otters in this study was the cavities among stones (35.2%).This type of shelter is not deep and has a broad entrance. It is actually a space among pebbles and rock along the river bank (Pardini and Trajano 1999).

The Neotropical river otter is also known to use caves as shelters, which other otters tend not to do. A few of the caves were used to rear young. It was suggested the caves were generally far from the main river and were protected sites. These are features common to other otter rearing dens (Pardini and Trajano 1999).

It was also noted that otters' scent marking behavior is concentrated in those areas of the home ranges which they frequent more than others, in their activity centers. Along the Betari River, Lontra longicaudis did not concentrate its scent marks around shelters. Apparently, this means the shelters are not necessarily centers of activity for the otters in riverine habitats (Pardini and Trajano 1999).

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Neotropical river otter lives in variety of habitats including natural systems such as deciduous and evergreen forests, warm and cool climate rainforests, and coastal savanna swamps (Emmons 1990). Habitat requirements include ample riparian vegetation (Bertonatti and Parera 1994; Redford and Eisenberg 1992), and abundant potential den sites (Soldateli and Blacher 1996). It favours clear, fast-flowing rivers and streams, and may be rare or absent from sluggish, silt-laden lowland rivers. It occurs mostly from 300 to 1,500 m of altitude, but has been found up to 3,000 m (Eisenberg 1989; Emmans 1990; Melendres 1978; Redford and Eisenberg 1992) and in Costa Rica and Uruguay it occurs below 300 m. The greatest abundances of Neotropical otters are in areas with extensive aquatic networks, low chemical and organic pollution, and low human density (Bardier 1992; Blacher 1987). However, this is a versatile species that tolerates environmental modifications well, and has been found occupying areas close to human activity such as irrigation ditches, rice fields and sugar cane plantations (Bertonatti and Parera 1994; Macdonald and Mason 1992).

It feeds mainly on fish, with crustaceans and mollusks contributing to large portions of diet in some areas (Bardier 1992; Bertonatti and Parera 1994; Gallo 1986; Helder-Jose and Ker De Andrade 1997; Passamani and Camargo 1995; Soldateli and Blacher 1996). Fish consumed are mostly from the families Cichlidae, Anostomidae, Characidae, and Pimelodidae (Passamani and Camargo 1995; Spinola and Vaughan 1995). Small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects are consumed opportunistically (Bertonatti and Parera 1994; Parera 1993; Passamani and Camargo 1995).

It may compete with sympatric Pteronura brasiliensis, however, competition effects may be buffered by use of different habitat, denning sites, size of prey, and by the more crepuscular habits of L. longicaudis (Carter and Rosas 1997; Duplaix 1978). Known predators include anacondas (Eunectes) and jaguars (Panthera onca) (Duplaix 1978; Parera, 1996a), but caimans (Caiman), dogs, and birds of prey may also prey on neotropical otters (Dunstone and Strachan 1988; Parera 1996b).

Breeding occurs mostly in spring, but may occur throughout the year in certain localities (Parera 1996a). Gestation is 56 days (Bertonatti and Parera 1994), and litter size varies from one to five young ones (Bertonatti and Parera 1994), usually two or three (Parera 1996a).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Trophic Strategy

The neotropical otter feeds mainly on fish, crustaceans and molluscs. It is also an opportunistic feeder, eating insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. It has been suggested that foraging occurs all day, happening more commonly in the middle or late afternoon. Nocturnal activity is rare, but some neotropical otters have become completely nocturnal when their normal activities are disturbed by humans (Lariviere 1999).

L.longicaudis is a graceful swimmer and diver. They are always found in or near the water. Their foraging dives can last from 20-30 seconds. The otter consumes small prey while in the water but will take larger prey to the shore to eat it (Lariviere 1999).

Two separate studies were conduted regarding the feeding habits of the neotropical river otter and the results are described here. One study was conducted at a dam in the "Duas Bocas" Biological Reserve in Brazil, between July 1986 to July 1987. This reserve is covered mainly by the Atlantic Rain Forest. The study was based on otter fecal (spraints) analysis and compared with known species found in the dam. The material collected was resistant to gastric juice, including fish bones, rays, jaws, and teeth of a number of animals, plus crab and insect exoskeletons (Helder and DeAndrade 1997).

The most important food item was fish, which in this study was present in 97.2% of the samples. Also observed were crustaceans, amphibians, mammals, insects, and birds. Crustaceans were the second most commonly encountered food item. The authors indicated that greater abundance and easier capture of fish make them the main food item for the otters (Helder and DeAndrade 1997).

Between August 1993 and September 1994 another study was carried out in an Atlantic forest stream in south-eastern Brazil, the Betari River. Likewise, the author studied undigested remains in the otter's scat. In 93% of the samples fish was found. Aquatic insects and crustaceans were also found frequently (78.9%). The conclusion of this study was that otters are sometimes influenced in their selection of food items according to the availability of prey and its ability to escape (Pardini 1998).

These studies characterize L. longicaudis as a piscivorous mustelid that engages in opportunistic feeding.

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Associations

There are a number of animals which prey on Neotropical river otters including anacondas, jaguars, caimans, dogs and birds of prey. Humans kill them for meat, fur, or incidentally in fishing operations, as these otters frequently get caught and drown in nets (Lariviere 1999).

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: Little is known about the longevity of these animals, but one specimen lived 14.9 years old in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Depending on the otters' locality, it breeds mostly in the spring, but may also breed throughout the year. Following a gestation period of 56 days, one to five young are born, but generally, there is only two or three in the litter. There is an indication of facultative delayed implantation, but it is not known how long the delay may be (Lariviere 1999).

Young are born blind, opening their eyes after 44 days. They are born fully furred. The young leave the den or nest when about 52 days old and spend most of the day playing near the natal den. At about 74 days post birth they start their aquatic activity with their mothers. Males do not provide any parental care.

Breeding interval: Neotropical otters breed once per year.

Breeding season: Some populations breed only in the spring, others throughout the year

Range number of offspring: 1 to 5.

Average number of offspring: 2-3.

Average gestation period: 56 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; delayed implantation

Average gestation period: 57 days.

Average number of offspring: 2.5.

  • Lariviere, S. 1999. Lontra longicaudis. Mammalian Species, 609: 1-5.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Lontra longicaudis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

The Neotropical otter shows little fear of humans. All over its range the animal has been hunted for its valuable and beautiful pelt. The durable fur of river otters is used for coat collars and trimming. One estimate has about 30,000 otters being killed annually in Columbia and Peru alone during the 1970's (Nowak 1999).

During the period 1950-1970 L. longicaudis was heavily hunted and its numbers diminished greatly. From 1959-1972, at least 113,718 pelts were exported from the Peruvian Amazon. In Peru in 1970, over 14,000 pelts were exported and some believe this was only 50% of the animals killed (Lariviere 1999).

The Neotropical river otter is listed as endangered by the United States Department of the Interior, Appendix 1 of CITES, and also by the Mexican Ministry of Ecology. It is currently protected by many countries in its range including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and many others (Lariviere 1999).

In Mexico, L. longicauda has disappeared from the highlands. Habitat destruction and fragmentation threatens the otter in the rest of the country (Nowak 1999).

In Argentina, due to excessive hunting in the 1970's, otter populations became very low. Once they received full protection in 1983, their populations recovered rapidly. Continued illegal hunting, water pollution and habitat destruction through ranching and mining are likely causes for the rareness of L. logicaudis (Lariviere 1999). A study of the wildlife in the lower delta of the Parana River in Argentina also shows that extraordinary floods in combination with human pressure has endangered the L. longicauda population there (Quintana et al 1992).

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: data deficient

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
DD
Data Deficient

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Waldemarin, H.F. & Alvarez, R.

Reviewer/s
Hussain, S.A. & Conroy, J. (Otter Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is considered to be Data Deficient due to ongoing uncertainties about effects of numerous and diverse anthropogenic threats across its range on rates of population decline. The species has an apparent wide distribution along the original range, but there are no systematic studies to evaluate the size of populations and there is no standardized information about changes in the extent of occurrence or area of occupancy. Threats include deforestation, contamination and pollution of aquatic systems, hunting, agricultural activities, mining and damming. However there is no information about population size, number of mature animals or the cumulative effect of threats across the range of the species. This species is suspected to be threatened and further research is needed to inform rates of decline so that it can be assessed against the threatened categories.

History
  • 2004
    Data Deficient
  • 2000
    Data Deficient
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
  • 1982
    Vulnerable
    (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: South America


Population detail:

Population location: South America
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Lontra longicaudis, see its USFWS Species Profile

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Population

Population
The species seems to be widespread, and its range does not seem to have changed, but there is no data available about population size, composition or distribution, so changes cannot be determined.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Excessive hunting of L. longicaudis for its pelt in the period 1950-1970 resulted in local extinction over parts of its former range (Brack-Egg 1978; Donadio 1978). Although current hunting and population status are unknown (Emmons 1990), continued illegal hunting (Chehebar 1991), habitat destruction through mining and ranching, and water pollution are likely to be responsible for its rareness (Alho and Lacher 1991; Alho et al. 1998; Chehebar 1990; Gallo 1986; Melendres 1978). Neotropical otters show little fear of humans (Parera 1993), and are sometimes killed incidentally in fishing operations (Dunstone and Strachan 1988) or kept in captivity by fishermen who use trained otters to aid in fishing practices (Parera 1996a).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Lontra longicaudis is listed as endangered in the Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES; Emmons, 1990) and by the Mexican Ministry of Ecology (Ceballos and Navarro 1991). It is also listed as endangered by the United States Department of Interior. The neotropical otter is listed as a priority species by the Fundacion Vida Silvestre Argentina (Bertonetti and Parera 1994). This species is currently protected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad, Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela (Aranda 1991; Brack-Egg 1978; Chehebar 1990; Mondolfi and Trebbau 1978). Neotropical otters are not legally protected in Guyana and Honduras, and no information is available on the distribution or legal status of neotropical otters in Belize, El Salvador, French Guiana, and Guatemala (Chehebar 1990).

Conservation priorities for the neotropical otter should focus on field surveys of current populations, identification of key habitats, protection of areas where high populations remain, and stricter regulations to prevent release of toxic waste in riverine systems (Mason and Macdonald 1990).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

None known.

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In the past, the Neotropical otter was heavily hunted for its fur. During 1950-1970 this resulted in this otter becoming extinct over parts of its former range. The retail price of one L. longicaudis pelt around 1990, was U.S. $25-90 (Lariviere 1999).

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