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Monday Mustelid - Aonyx cinerea

Though they be but little, they are cute.

Asian Small-clawed Otters (Aonyx cinerea) are the smallest species of otter in the world, and they can be found in southern China, Bangladesh, India, Laos, Indonesia, Burma, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. It is called "small-clawed" because its claws do not extend past the fleshy tips of their fingers and toes - kind of like our fingernails and toenails. This feature allows them to use their partially-webbed paws with a higher degree of dexterity.


Adult Asian Small-clawed Otters can grow up to 39 inches (100 cm) in total body length, about 12 (30 cm) of which is tail. They tip the scales at just under 12 pounds (5.4 kg). They have slender, flexible bodies, which allow them to groom themselves all over without any help. Their long whiskers (vibrissae) are extremely sensitive, and help them to find prey while underwater. They prefer the freshwater habitats of southern Asia, including wetlands, mangrove swamps, ponds, rivers and even rice fields.

The bulk of an Asian Small-clawed Otter diet consists of invertebrates like crabs and molluscs, and also amphibians and fish. If they need to supplement their diet with land animals, they'll eat insects, snakes and rodents. In order to eat their hard-shelled prey, they will crush or crack the shells, or even leave them to bake in the sun and crack when they start to dry out.


The social structure of Asian Small-clawed Otters consists of small family groups lead by a mated pair, who form a lifelong monogamous relationship. They are supported by older offspring who help to raise the year's pups. A female Asian Small-clawed Otter can have two litters per year when there's enough food to support them. The gestation period lasts for about 60 days, after which a litter of one to six pups is born. Pups are practically helpless for the first 40 days of their life, which is when they open their eyes. They are fully weaned at 14 weeks.


Due to the ever-decreasing amount of available habitat, Asian Small-clawed Otters are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Much of the wetlands and swamps are being deforested and converted to land used for aquaculture, which creates even more conflict between humans and otters, as otters that live in rice fields or fish farms are seen as pests. They are also hunted for their fur and body parts, which are sometimes used in traditional medicine. There are a few national protection measures in place for the Asian Small-clawed Otters, and the AZA has a species survival plan in place for breeding the otters in captivity.


Source for all images used in this post.

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