Communication in the Asian Small-Clawed Otter

Vocal Communication

This is a very social species, and vocalizes frequently and loudly. This is undoubtedly because they are small, and frequently out of sight of one another. Within the group, it is usually the alpha male that starts off a sequence, even though it is the alpha female that is dominant. They have a vocabulary of more than twelve separate cries plus the basic instinctive sounds.

Davies in Otters: Proceedings of the First Working Meeting of the Otter Specialist Group (1977)records that the usual otter H! represents a range of states in this species, all with a basic component of anxiety, and also induces anxiety in any conspecific that hears it.

The constant contact call, much used, is a rapid disyllabic wheeuk!, which sonograms reveal as a circumflex call, rising in pitch, peaking briefly then falling rapidly.

The begging call, normally used by one otter trying to get another to give it some food, and in captivity usually directed toward the keeper, is a loud, piteous Pyooh!

Unlike many of the other otter species, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter has no chuckle. Despite this, one of the old names for this animal is the Laughing Otter of India (1873).

Non-Vocal Communication

The main form of non-vocal communication in this species is spraint, which is produced frequently. Animals have been seen scraping up little piles of sand and vegetation to create a raised, prominent sprainting point, which is regularly visited. As soon as the dominant female has sprainted, each otter in the group will also visit the spraint heap and add to it. Sprainting technique in this species is accompanied by vigorous and distinctive 'paddling' with the back feet, both pressing the addition into the heap, and smearing the group scent onto each animal (Pers. Obs.).

When otters in a group meet, especially after any period of separation, even of just being out of sight, they will often nuzzle, and frequently exchange saliva. This presumably reinforces the group bond in some way. All group members allo-groom frequently, and engage in frequent tussles and play-fights. Otters seem to be happiest when mouthing some part of another otter in a non-aggressive way.

Apart from this, these otters show very little body language as far as humans can see. This gives them the reputation of being short-tempered, and biting without warning. Experienced handlers can often see subtle changes in posture that indicate mood.

Asian Small-Clawed Otter