African Clawless Otter

The second-largest freshwater otter species is the African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis), also known as the Cape clawless otter or Groot otter. Throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, it lives in permanent water bodies, occupying savannah and lowland forest areas. It gets its name from the fact that its feet are partially webbed and clawless. The prefix a- (“without”) and onyx (“claw/hoof”) combine to form the term aonyx, which means clawless.

Physical Characteristics of the African Clawless Otter

The fur of African clawless otters is thick and smooth, with an almost silky underbelly. White facial markings that reach down to their throats and chest areas are chestnut in color. With five fingers and no opposable thumbs, the paws on the Groot are partly webbed.

Except for the digits 2, 3, and 4 of the hind paws, none of the species have claws. Their large, flat skulls have small orbits and short rostra, and their skulls are broad and flat. Molars are huge, flat objects that are used to crush prey and eat fish at rapid speed. On average, male otters are significantly larger than females. Adults range in length from 113–163 cm (45–64 in), including their tails, which account for around a third of their total length.

Weights range from 10–36 kg (22–80 lbs), with most otters weighing between 12 and 21 kg on average (26-46 lbs). Despite being closely related to the oriental small-clawed otter, the African clawless otter is frequently twice as large as that diminutive mustelid.

Habitat of the African Clawless Otter

Clawless otters can be found in a variety of habitats, including open coastal plains, semiarid zones, and heavily forested areas. Otters live in areas surrounding permanent bodies of water, typically surrounded by some kind of vegetation, and are mostly found in southern Africa.

African Clawless Otter Map of Territory
African Clawless Otter Map

The otter is attracted to logs, trees, and loose foliage because they provide cover, shade, and great rolling opportunities. They create burrows in banks near water, allowing for easier food access and a fast escape from predators, despite being slow and clumsy on land. They have been seen scavenging along beaches and rocks and searching for mullet in shallow surf in the False Bay region of the Cape Peninsula. They are mostly nocturnal in cities and spend the day lying up in quiet, bushy areas.

Reproduction of the African Clawless Otter

Around early spring, females give birth to litters of two to five young. During the rainy season in December, mating occurs in brief bursts. Following that, both males and females go their separate ways and resume their solitary lives. Females are the primary caregivers for their children. Gestation usually lasts two months (63 days). Weaning occurs between 45 and 60 days, with maximum maturity occurring around one year of age.

Diet of the African Clawless Otter

Clawless otters are omnivores, meaning they eat plant matter and animals. Water-dwelling animals such as crabs, fish, frogs, and worms make up the majority of Aonyx capensis’ diet. They dive after prey to catch it, then swim back to shore to eat or swim on their backs as they chew and swallow.

The forepaws of the otter are useful for searching and digging on the muddy bottoms of ponds and rivers, picking up rocks, and peering under logs. Extremely sensitive whiskers (vibrissae) are used as water sensors to detect the movements of potential prey.

Behavior of the African Clawless Otter

African clawless otters are mostly solitary species, but they will live in family groups of up to five individuals in neighboring territories. They mostly keep to themselves unless they’re looking for a partner, as each has its selection within that territory. Territories are delineated by a pair of anal glands that secrete a distinct odor. Each otter is fiercely protective of its territory.

African Clawless Otter
African Clawless Otter

Mating season typically falls in December. After a 2 month gestation period 1-3 pups are bown and weaned only 60 days later. Mothers will rear pups alone; pups will stay with the mother for a period of 1 year.

The African clawless otter spends its days swimming and hunting for prey. They return to their burrows (holts) for protection, cooling, and a rubdown with grasses and leaves. Their tails are primarily used for locomotion and propelling them through the water. The long tails are also used as a form of (tripod) prop to help them balance while surveying terrain on their hind feet.

Clawless otters have various sounds of communication including humming when calling each other, growls and snarls when threatened and two types of whistles.

Fantastic Facts About the Clawless Otter

  • African clawless otters are 1 of 4 otter species that live in both fresh and salt water ecosystems.
  • African clawless otters are mostly active during the night. They will sleep during the day in burrows.
  • Groots will have fresh water washing sites near shorelines to wash salt out of their fur
  • A mother will move her pups by hobbling on her back legs and holding them in her forearms

Threats to African Clawless Otter

Humans are the greatest threat to African clawless otters. Aonyx specimens often forage in man-made fisheries, where they may be hunted or caught in nets. Human overfishing can reduce the amount of food available to otters.

African Clawless Otter | Groot
African Clawless Otter | Groot

The elusive omnivores are occasionally hunted for their thick, soft pelts, which are used in clothing by humans. Logging can pose a significant threat in forested areas, as erosion causes rivers to become more turbid, reducing the populations of fish on which otters depend.

It’s possible that logging is a much more serious threat to otters than hunting. However, national parks like Tsitsikamma National Park, S.A, provide sanctuaries for the clawless otter. The Otter Trail is a hiking trail in South Africa named after the African clawless otter that lives in the area. The otters on the trail are thankfully protected.

Clawless African Otters have few predators because they are quick and nimble in the water and efficient at burrowing. The python, which will sometimes lie in wait near or the water, is its greatest enemy. Crocodiles and fish eagles are two other predators that stealthily hunt the Grood. When attacked, an otter lets out a high-pitched scream to warn nearby otters and confuse a predator.

Conservation of African Clawless Otters

According to the IUCN, the African Clawless Otter’s widespread distribution will not protect it from the destruction of its freshwater home habitats, which is the main threat to conserving the species in the wild.

IUCN Near Threatened

The depletion of water sources due to water use, waste, draining, and climate change effects, combined with poaching, is putting additional strain on these elusive swimmers. The species is classified as Near Threatened and Decreasing by the IUCN. habitat loss and the African Clawless Otter’s, resulting fight for space with humans, is expected to worsen over the next decade, according to the conservation organization.

Q & A About African Clawless Otters

What do clawless otters feed on in water?

Clawless otters feed on small water-dwelling species such as crabs, fish, frogs, and clams, if it’s small enough while swimming on their backs.

Is the African clawless otter on the verge of extinction?

The African clawless is classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Why don’t African Clawless otters have claws?

Clawless otters don’t have claws because digging is an important part of their lives

Where can you see African clawless otters in the wild?

If you are patient you can clawless otters on Plettenberg Bay beaches, South Africa

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