Even though otters are semi-aquatic mammals and actually have webbed feet – some species of otter are more than capable of climbing onto and up into trees.
How Easily Can Otters Climb Trees?
If you were to watch the videos of captive in the UK (watch below) – then the answer would seem to be ‘quite easily indeed’. These otters have been filmed on many occasions high up in the trees having a bit of a nap. They scale the lower branches very easily and then somewhat sure-footedly stumble their way into the higher branches and have a bit of a stretch.
In the wild, otters are more than capable of running up and along fallen branches and trees. They are naturally inquisitive and very agile on land and so these extensions of their habitat are used all the same. They certainly aren’t afraid of heights. Usually, though, the trees that otters use are low-level and quite horizontal: they don’t naturally scale vertical trees as bear cubs or koalas do.
In zoo enclosures, otters like the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) and Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) are more adventurous. They are more likely to try something new here in their man-made enclosures – as there is less to do naturally. Their food and safety are supplied by their keepers – so they have more time for fun. And tree climbing appears to be top of the list.
Otters such as the Sea Otter and the Marine Otter probably won’t ever attempt this as they are mainly coastal in nature and have a lack of trees in their habitat – as does the estuarine-dwelling Asian Small-clawed Otters (Aonyx cinereus) – so are less likely to try this. However, this still isn’t seen as a common behavior even for species who have the opportunity to do so.
Do Otters Sleep In Trees?
Although otters can be seen to climb trees in certain circumstances – it is unlikely that they would choose to regularly sleep in trees. Not only are they rather exposed – but it is potentially also very unstable. In captive conditions, otters have been seen resting in trees for long periods – but this was thought to be a way to avoid their pups in the confines of their zoo enclosure.
There aren’t many mammals who sleep in trees as it is – let alone naturally aquatic mammals. However, as otters are very versatile and always looking for new things to do – it is of course possible in certain circumstances. It isn’t thought of as a common behavior though.
Otters prefer to sleep in their underground dens – or holts – where possible. Especially when they have pups. These holts are quite spacious – and are filled with soft furnishings such as moss and dried grasses. So much better – and safer – than a tree.
Can Otters Fell Trees With Their Teeth?
Otters have the teeth of a small carnivore – like a cat – so they wouldn’t be able to easily fell a tree using just their teeth. They could chew smaller twigs and perhaps gnaw off some bark if they felt the urge – but they certainly couldn’t actively fell a tree with their teeth.
However, they do look a bit like beavers – who of course CAN feel trees with their teeth. Beavers are 100% herbivores and as rodents – they have very strong and ever-growing teeth designed specifically for gnawing. Therefore beavers find it super easy to fell even very large trees with their teeth alone.
Beavers fell trees initially to build dams – but also to store the branches for food throughout the winter when the temperature drops below zero and their home lake freezes solid. Having felled a whole tree and stored the leaves underwater – they can eat ‘indoors’ instead of venturing out in the cold.
Can Beavers and Otters Both Climb Trees?
Can beavers climb or jump trees? While beavers are skilled swimmers and builders, they are not adept at climbing trees. On the other hand, otters are renowned for their tree-climbing prowess. So while otters can skillfully navigate tree branches, beavers are more at home constructing dams and lodges in aquatic habitats.
Will Otters Climb Fences?
Absolutely. If the fence is lower than 1 meter – it won’t be a problem for most adult otters to clear in a single leap. If it is slightly taller and has wide bar spacings – again – easy. And this is for standard otters – smaller or larger otters will also both have their limits.
If there is a nearby branch or post running up to, or over, the fence – this makes it even easier to clear. And if the gaps in the fence are wider than around 10cm then most river otters can squeeze right through. They are very slim under all that fur – it is only fluffed up with air most of the time.
Many fisheries have to try all sorts of things to make sure their captive fish are safe from hungry otters – and so all sorts of fences have been tried. And all sorts of otters have overcome them. Digging underneath, squeezing through, or climbing over. They are very determined weasels for sure.