Otters 4 – Mating and eating

In mid-winter we saw a pair courting. One walked around an area of kikuyu grass several metres long close to the high water mark and sprayed into the slope exactly as a cat does: rear end hoisted high, tail erect and quivering. Or so it seemed because we could not see the actual spray from about 20 metres.

The two then moved on over the “beach” touching each other with their chins in a sinuous stroking motion. When they reached a flat rock they lay down side by side and continued the caressing action, first one’s head and throat across the other’s, then the reverse.

The female rolled onto her back and the male mounted her face to face, thrusting rapidly half a dozen times before they broke apart. We supposed this was a successful coupling because once completed they stopped the caressing, moved to the sea and swam away.

A mating pair on the left.
A mating pair on the left.

A few rainy days later we watched a solitary otter washing and eating its catch in a pool of rainwater. The catch appeared to be one of the small, multi-finned pyjama sharks which live in the kelp forests.

The otter held the prey in the pool, pulled off strips of meat with its paws and carried them to its mouth instead of tearing meat off with its teeth. It ate like this for about ten minutes until the rainwater flow ceased then carried the rest of the shark away in its mouth.

Clawless otters do not confine their diet to seafood. They eat pretty much what they can catch which includes frogs, the nestlings of other water birds including ducklings, and various shellfish.

I saw a demonstration of this on a sunny afternoon when the sun shone right into the usually shadowed caves between the big boulders, the world of the dassie and sometimes snakes.

I was watching the dassie families lazing in the sunshine, the adults lying on top of the boulders while more than a dozen babies, two or three weeks old, sported here there and everywhere, dark little bodies dashing in and out of cracks and crevices and up and down vertical surfaces as if gravity didn’t exist.

Baby dassies just out of reach.
Baby dassies just out of reach.
The dassies generally pay no attention to the otters, except when chased!
The dassies generally pay no attention to the otters, except when chased!

The largest crevice was in the shape of an inverted V about a metre high formed by two rounded boulders lying against each other. Baby dassies were chasing their siblings around its pebbled floor when two large otters appeared, one at the narrow back entrance to the little cave, the other at the wide front on my side.

With the sunlight beaming right in I had a grandstand view. Uh-oh I thought, this is the end for those babies, the otters will have them for snacks. If that’s what the otters also thought they were badly mistaken.

The one at my end charged at the babies but they dodged like lightning, skipping back and forth as fast as ping pong balls in a high speed match. They were far more manoeuverable and quicker than the hunters and despite the otters’ speed and agility made them look clumsy. The dassies literally bounced around in the cave from floor to wall to wall to floor and back, passing centimetres from the gaping jaws of the otters, under them, over them, behind them, all over the place.

And as each baby spotted a gap, it shot out of the cave mouth and up the nearest boulder. Once up top there was no way an otter could catch them.

Within about five minutes two bemused otters stood looking at each other across an empty cavern, no doubt wondering what on earth had happened. New lesson learned.

To Be Continued/ … in next week’s installment meet our Queen of the cobras.


4 thoughts on “Otters 4 – Mating and eating

  1. wilfnussey October 17, 2014 / 5:30 pm

    Lovely pix, Liz, but haven’t we used this text already? Or am I just a victim of geriatric erosion?



  2. de Wets Wild October 18, 2014 / 5:18 am

    I’m still green with jealousy that you have otters on your stoep guys!


  3. Mike Berger October 18, 2014 / 8:18 am

    Absolutely nothing like close observation. Very interesting description.


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