Asian Small-Clawed Otter Fact File

Aonyx Cinerea


1-1.5 kg






Wild - 10 years

Captive - 20 years




conservation status



Fishing - Expert Level Unlocked!

The Asian short-clawed otter (also known as the oriental short-clawed otter) is an expert level fisher with a streamlined body helping it to dive in the water for the fish. They also feed on a range of other aquatic animals such as crabs and land based animals are also part of their diet.

They are the smallest of the thirteen otter species which have been recorded globally.


What does an Asian Short-Clawed Otter look like?

The Oriental small clawed otter is the smallest of the 13 otter species. Their body measures 45-61cm (18-24in) with the tail adding a further 25-35cm (10-14in). They weigh just 1-1.5kg (2.25-11lb)

The back feet of this species are fully webbed and the front feet are partially webbed. Their claws do not go past their feet pads and in some individuals they are not present at all.

Their body is covered in dark brown fur which is quite short. On the underside their fur is a pale brown and white around the face, throat and chest. On either side of the face are a number of large whiskers. These whiskers help them to detect prey items when foraging under the water.


How does the Asian Short-Clawed Otter survive in its habitat?

The body of the otter is streamlined to help them move quickly through the water. Their strong tail also works as a rudder to help steer them through the water. The ears and nostrils have the ability to close when they are under water to protect them.

Their fur has two layers. A thick outer layer is waterproofed helping them to move through the water and a soft under layer will help to keep them warm. This dense fur may have up to 450,000 hairs per square inch

Asian short-clawed otters have well adapted front paws with reduced nails making them hand-like. This adaptations helps them to catch their prey items when hunting in the murky waters which they inhabit.


What does an Asian Short-Clawed Otter eat?

The Oriental Small Clawed Otter is a carnivore. In the wild the main food which they eat is crabs. They will also eat fish, octopus and snails while in the water. On land they eat lizards, snakes, frogs, small rodents and eggs.

Their metabolism is fast meaning food can pass through their system in just a few hours. As a result they must regularly feed.

Otters often display a behaviour in which they wash food items in water before they consume it.

They have strong, sharp teeth which help them to crush the shells of crabs which they feed on.


Where do you the find the Asian Short-Clawed Otter?

Asian short-clawed otters are found in India, Southern China, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines, Nepal and Indonesia.

They are increasingly rare in parts of their range with the populations in southern China and at the foothills of the Himalayas believed to be have disappeared entirely with only 3 sightings in the Chinese population since 2006. A similar story has occurred on the island of Hong Kong. The species was thought extinct in Singapore but has now been rediscovered.

A group of oriental small clawed otters escaped from captivity and set up a colony in England.


Where can an Asian Short-Clawed Otter survive?

In their natural habitat oriental small clawed otters inhabit swamps, forest, grassland, wetlands, rivers, mangroves and tidal pools. They are also known to frequent human made rice paddies.

They do not like open areas choosing instead to inhabit areas with low to moderate tree cover.

The majority of this otter’s life is spent on the land unlike most of the other species.

The oriental small clawed otter creates a burrow which it digs in the side of a river. This burrow is known as a holt.

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Asian Small-Clawed Otter (Aonyx cinerea)


How does an Asian Short-Clawed Otter produce its young?

Otters have a 28 day oestrous cycle and are fertile for 3 days a month. Breeding can occur year round and most commonly occurs in the water.

These otters can give birth to two litters, with an average of 1-6 pups per litter, each year.

Asian short-clawed otters mate for life.

After a gestation period of 60 days the pups are born furless, toothless and with their eyes closed. Each member of the otter family will assist with caring for the pups. Females prepare a den using a range of grass, straw and hay to line this. Males often assist with carrying material to the den.

The pups will open their eyes at 5 weeks old. By three months old the little otters are swimming but they remain with their parents until the birth of the next litter. Pairs have the ability to produce up to two litters each year.

Oriental small clawed otters become sexually mature at 1 year of age. They do not usually first reproduce until 2-3 years of age though.

Hybridization between the Asian short-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) has been observed. A small population of hybrid individuals occurs in Singapore.


What does the Asian Short-Clawed Otter do during its day?

Oriental small clawed otters are highly social and have been known to live in groups numbering up to 20. They will

Individuals mate for life and only the dominant pair within the group will breed. Other individuals provide assistance with raising the young and are most commonly young from previous litters. Females are dominant within the group.

This species is an expert swimmer which is well adapted for life in the water. They can remain below the surface for between 6 and 8 minutes before coming up for a breath.

They are most active at dawn and dusk which means they are crepuscular.

Otters regularly groom and maintain their fur to ensure it retains its waterproof qualities.

Asian short-clawed otters have a range of calls which are used for raising the alarm, greeting or courting. These calls include a range of yelps, whimpers and screams.

They use common toileting areas which mark their territory.

Predators and Threats

What stops the Asian Short-Clawed Otter from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the Asian short-clawed otter include crocodiles, snakes, wild cats and birds of prey.

This species is increasingly the subject of trafficking primarily to supply the pet trade. Unfortunately with the rise of social media their has been an increasing demand for otters as pets with the small size of the Asian short-clawed otter making them a popular option.

These animals, like most otter species, are threatened through hunting for their fur.

Otters are caught as bycatch in fisher nets. Some fishermen view the otter as a pest which can lead to conflicts. With an increase in roads through their habitat they are increasingly threatened by vehicle strikes.

Quick facts

In captivity a commonly seen behaviour is playing with a stone in a move that resembles juggling.

They are also known as the Oriental short-clawed otter.

Malay fisherman have taught these otters to catch fish for them.

Asian short-clawed otters were first described for modern science during 1815.


Wright, L., de Silva, P., Chan, B. & Reza Lubis, I. 2015. Aonyx cinereus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T44166A21939068. Downloaded on 20 May 2020.


HUSSAIN, et. al. (2011) “BIOLOGY AND ECOLOGY OF ASIAN SMALL-CLAWED OTTER Aonyx cinereus.” Uttarakhand: IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull.

Denver Zoo Staff (2018) “Asian Small-Clawed Otter .” Denver: Denver Zoo.

Thai National Parks Staff (2023) Amblonyx cinerea, Oriental small-clawed otter, Thai National Parks. Thai National Parks. Available at: (Accessed: April 26, 2023).

Smithsonian's National Zoo Staff (2023) Asian small-clawed otter, Smithsonian's National Zoo. Smithsonian's National Zoo. Available at: (Accessed: April 26, 2023).

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