New series, everyone! Welcome to Monday Mustelid, a series of posts about every species belonging to the family Mustelidae. Mustelidae is the largest family in the order Carnivora, and is incredibly diverse. This is the family to which otters, weasels, badgers, wolverines, martens, ferrets and minks belong. So let's dive right in, shall we?
The African Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding dry, arid areas and the Congo river basin. They are the second-largest freshwater otter, and they are also called the Cape clawless otter and groot otter. There is some controversy as to the characterization of this species and its subspecies, however, as some authorities consider the Congo/Cameroon clawless otter species to be separate from the African Clawless Otter, which means that the following subspecies would fall under the Congo/Cameroon otter species (Aonyx congica):
- Aonyx capensis microdon
- Aonyx capensis phillipsi
For the purposes of this series, this entry will cover both the African Clawless Otter and the Congo/Cameroon otter.
African Clawless Otters are so called because their partially-webbed feet have no claws, except for three digits each on the hind feet. They have five fingers on each paw, but no opposable thumbs. In general, adult male African Clawless Otters are larger than females. Adults can grow to 64 inches (163 cm) long, including the tails. Most adults weigh between 26 and 46 pounds (12 and 21 kg).
African Clawless Otters can be found in habitats surrounding permanent bodies of water within their range, including forests, coastal plains, and semiarid zones. They prefer habitats that are surrounded by some kind of foliage, as logs and branches help to provide shelter. They dig burrows on the banks of the water, which allows them to escape quickly from predators and easy access to their water-dwelling prey. They are typically nocturnal, and feed on fish, frogs, crabs and worms. Their sensitive whiskers help them to locate prey underwater, and their dexterous fingers allow them to dig them out of the mud.
The breeding season of the African Clawless Otter occurs in the rainy season in December. After a gestation period of 63 days, the females will give birth to a litter of two to five young. The males are not involved in the raising of pups, but go their separate ways after mating. The mother will wean her pups at about 60 days, but they will tend to stay with her until they reach maturity at one year.
Threats to the African Clawless Otter include being hunted for its pelt and body parts used in traditional medicine, as well as perception that it is significant competition for humans wishing to fish. Unfortunately, these animals can become tangled in fishing nets and drown. They can also be blamed for raids on fish farms or the death of domesticated birds. Deforestation and loss of habitat are also looming threats to this species. None of these threats is currently considered to be significant enough to take species-specific conservation measures, however.
Source for all images used in this post.