Otters are truly fascinating creatures. These unique marine mammals are known for their dense coats, round bodies and expressive faces. Unless you’re lucky enough to live by an ocean where sea otters dwell, you likely only see them at an aquarium or zoo, and you can’t keep them as pets. Still, when it comes to cute animal posts on social media, otters are nearly as popular as common critters like dogs and cats.
Pictures and videos of otters holding hands (well, actually paws!) have become particularly beloved, instantly brightening our feeds with behavior that’s recognizable for its human qualities yet wrapped up in a fuzzy package. Given the popularity of otter hand-holding pictures online, it might seem like a common trait, but that’s actually not the case. Read on to get the scoop on sea otter paw-holding and learn more fun facts about the amazing animals.
Why do sea otters hold hands?
The idea of otters holding hands is sweet, so it’s no wonder images of this behavior have gone viral. However, it’s not something otters do every day. The experts at Sea Otter Savvy, an organization dedicated to protecting the creatures and providing education about them, say it’s rare and is more likely to be seen in otters in captivity than in wild sea otters.
In the rare cases when sea otters do hold paws, it is possible this behavior keeps them from drifting apart while they sleep. Holding paws might also keep the paws warm; however, as Heather Barrett, Sea Otter Savvy’s Communications Director, notes, it is more common that sea otters will cover their eyes with their paws to reduce heat loss.
Sea otters sleep on their backs
Otters spend a lot of time floating on their backs — they know how to relax, and they’re talented at staying stable while they do it. Sea otters will even form a “raft” — essentially, a big group of fuzzy guys (or girls, since rafts are typically gender-segregated) going belly-up. Rafting helps them stay together and conserve energy while they doze.
They also wrap themselves in kelp (“like a burrito,” Barrett says!). The kelp keeps the sea otters from floating away, like an anchor to a boat. Once they’re all together in a kelp patch they get into raft formation to stay safe, and a sea otter raft makes for a stunning sight.
Otters are ultra-fuzzy
Sea otters are known for their plush fur. In fact, they have up to 1 million hairs per square inch, making them the mammals with the thickest fur. Much of their day is spent grooming this fur to stay warm. Because sea otters are the only marine mammals without blubber (a layer of fat), their fur is essential to regulating their temperatures — and it also looks pretty fabulous!
Otters need to eat a lot
“Otters have the highest mass specific metabolic rate of any marine mammal,” says Barrett. This means they burn through calories very quickly (unlike humans!) and have big appetites. In fact, otters can eat eat 25% of their body weight in food a day in order to get enough calories. They even have a clever mealtime hack: They store food in large skin folds under their armpits and use their tummies as tables to eat off of.
Spectacular sea otters
There’s so much more to sea otters than just being cute. While these animals are certainly adorable, they’re also vital parts of our ecosystem and possess keen instincts. (Using kelp as an anchor? Pretty darn smart, if you ask us!) Otters even know how to use tools and are able to use rocks as hammers to break open prey in hard shells.
Sea otters may not commonly hold paws, but there’s no denying the range of their abilities. Whether they’re using their tummies as tables or taking well-deserved naps, these furry guys remain eternally charming.
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