Clawless Otter - Aonyx capensis

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Striped Polecat - Ictonyx striatus | Honey Badger - Millivora capensis | Clawless Otter - Aonyx capensis


Afrikaans Groototter Zulu Ntini Tswana Lenyebi 

F 7 cm
 H 8 cm

Distribution Dung
5 cm
Deposited in middens less than 10 m from water
Contains fragments of crabs carapaces

Unusual features/differences from similar animals

The hind feet are webbed and have tiny nails. Front feet are only slightly webbed and have no nails or claws.

Visible Male/Female Differences

 Males are bigger than females.

Habitat and Distribution

It prefers running water to dams and lakes. Can live in fresh water, estuaries, lagoons and the sea as long as fresh drinking water, food, and the cover of dense vegetation, holes or rocks is available.  Feeds mainly on crustaceans. Also eats frogs, dragonfly larvae, fish, birds, rodents and mollusks. 


Litters of up to three, usually two, are born during the dry season after a gestation 60-64 days in hole or nest in dense vegetation. Eyes open at 1 month and only then will they leave the den with mother. Pups are weaned at about eight weeks. Mothers are very protective and will even attack people.

Behavior and Habits

The clawless otter is active mainly during the late afternoon,  early morning and dusk. When inactive they shelter in dens (called holts) in dense vegetation, under rocks or digs its own burrows. Superbly at home in the water. The hind feet are used for propulsion and the tail is a rudder. Fish are hunted by sight; crabs and mollusks are felt for and captured with the forefeet and then killed. The long tactile whiskers detect vibrations from moving prey. Crabs are crushed and swallowed shell and all while water mongooses do not swallow the carapace. Fish are eaten from the head backwards. Spotted-necked otters begin their meal from the tail. After swimming, it dries itself by rubbing on vegetation, the ground, or against rocks. Its hands, with rough skin on palms and fingers, makes it easy to feel under rocks or in holes for prey, especially frogs and fish, which it eats while treading water. They could be right- or left-handed; after eating it will wash its face and paws.

Usually seen singly, in twos, or in family groups of parents with up to three young.


  • Intense threats: growls, snarls and loud wails.

  • Submissive lying on back:  Wow-wow-wow

  • Greeting call:  whack-o, whack-o.

  • Conversation among family:  squealing, mewing and snuffling.

  • Begging call:  humming.

  • Different emotions:  whee-whee.

  • Alarm call:  Hah!

Dung and Field sign

The dung (called spraints) are 22-29 mm in diameter and are found in middens close to the water. Spraints contain fragments of crab carapaces and have a fishy odor; dark brown when fresh, ageing to cream. The spoor is large (6-9 cm wide) and does not show claw marks. Flattened vegetation or sand marks where an otter rubbed itself dry. Also smooth slide marks as it enters and leaves the water.

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