Wild Harris

Otter

Otter 1 CReddick.jpgOtter    (Photo: Cliff Reddick)

The otter is the one animal that all visitors to Harris want to see – and often they are not disappointed as it is one of the best places in Scotland to see otters. 

They are quite numerous around the shore, and also travel inland along rivers and streams.  One of the best places to see them is on the east coast of Harris along the rocky shores of the sea lochs. Otter 2 CReddick.jpgOtter    (Photo: Cliff Reddick)

The otter is the largest member of the weasel family – you can see its shape in this photograph with the long body and long tail – similar to all the other members of the weasel family.  You would have to be very lucky to see one out of the water like this, though!

Otter 3 LCampbell.jpgOtters    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Usually what you will see is a small head sticking up out of the water, with a V shape trailing in the water behind.  You can tell them apart from seals as they have a smaller head and swim faster.  Often the tail sticks up out of the water also. 

Otter 4 LCampbell.jpgOtter with Sea Trout    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

The otter feeds on fish which it catches by diving underwater and grabbing the fish in its jaws.  It particularly likes lumpsuckers, but it not really fussy – any fish will do.  And if they don’t catch many fish, they will eat young birds or frogs.

When they come out of the water they head to their shelters, or holts.  These can be holes in peat banks or in boulder piles, and always have more than one entrance.  The otter needs freshwater to bathe in, so the holt is often near a small pool or stream.

They give birth to two or three cubs, which are only a few inches long when they are first born.  They grow slowly and do not leave the holt until they are about ten weeks old.  When they first leave the holt they are not very good at swimming as their coat is so fluffy it makes it difficult to dive!

The cubs stay with their mother for over a year, until they are able to fend for themselves.

by Alison Tyler