Semi-aquatic species, otters are characterized by their long slender bodies, small ears, thick tails and webbed feet. The European otter has a brown coat with a distinct white color along under the face and down to the belly. Their coat is made up of long, coarse guard hairs and a shorter dense undercoat called ground hair. These otters are largely nocturnal, spending much of their day in tunnels and dens keeping cool and searching for food at night. The European otter is largely solitary and very territorial, protecting an area of up to 25 miles wide. Females usually give birth to a litter of 2-3 cubs that are born blind and only open their eyes after the first month. The young will stay with their mothers up to 14 months.
The European otter has a wide distribution and can be found primarily in Europe, as its name would suggest, but also along Asia and Africa. This species lives in a variety of aquatic habitats including lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, swamp forests, and the brackish waters of estuaries. They can be found in a number of latitudes and may move to coincide with the upward migration of carp and other fish for spawning. Otters depend on different features of a habitat in order to breed, such as holes in the river bank, cavities among tree roots, and piles off rocks, wood, or debris. They stay close to the strip between land and water and prefer banks with vegetation.
The diet of the otter consists of mainly small and medium sized fish. However, they also eat aquatic insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, small mammals, and crustaceans. Their diet can vary depending on the season and location. For example, crabs are an important source of food for otters inhabiting streams.
The aquatic environment that otters call home are very vulnerable to changes. Dam construction, removal of vegetation along the bank of a river or stream, draining of wetlands, and other man-made changes have a great impact on the population of otters. Coastal populations are vulnerable to oil spills and pollution of rivers and lake affect the fish population that is their main source of food. Otters can also get caught in fishing traps and nets set for other species, and be hunted for their coat. The species was listed as near threatened, but conservation activities are reviving the population.