Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Otters in the Wild

Otters are small mammals who live in and around clean riverbanks. We have seen evidence of them along the River Aire at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley, and the Aire-Calder navigation at Thwaite Mills, Stourton. They have dense grey-brown fur to keep them warm in the water, a broad snout and a paler coloured chest. Their webbed feet make them excellent swimmers and they can close their ears and nose to the water when they are underwater. Otter cubs are in the water within 10 weeks of being born.

A dark brown otter taxidermy mount stands upright on its hind legs, with front paws facing forward, and tail behind.
Eurasian Otter

Otters are listed as ‘near threatened’ on the UCN Red List of Threatened Species and are a priority species on the UK Biodiversity framework. 

The animals are very elusive, but you can tell when they have been around. You may see five toed pawprints in the riverbank mud about 6-7cm long, find droppings, or smell an otter’s ‘spraint’ or scent which smells a bit like jasmine tea. We have found footprints and droppings at Leeds Museums and Galleries venues near water.  


How big are they?

They are usually 60-80cm long, with their tail making up 32-56cm of their length. They weigh 6-8kg.  


What do they eat?

Otters eat mainly fish, but they also eat waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans. 

Where do they live? They live along clean rivers that have plenty of vegetation to hide their ‘holts’ (nests) in and that have plenty of wildlife for food.  



Mammal: A warm-blooded animal with fur or hair, that produces milk for its young. 


Discussion ideas: 

  • If you were to protect an endangered animal, bird or insect to your local area, what would it be and why? What conditions and habitats would you need to create to help the animal survive and thrive? Is there anything that would need to stop? Or other things that might need to start? What support would you need? What impact would the protection have on the biodiversity of the area? How do you think it would change the current balance?   
  • What do you think might happen to the otters in Leeds if the rivers became polluted? Can you relate this to other experiences across the globe of pollution in waterways, rivers and seas? Think about different types of pollution. Do you think one type of pollution would be particularly harmful for otters?  


Activity ideas: 

  • Literacy and oracy: Create a sensory story about the day in the life of an otter, using fun fur, water and non-toxic plants. What happens during the day (and night)? Who does our otter encounter? It could be a real or fantastical story.  
  • Art and Design: Can you draw fur? Can you create it in different ways? To convey the feeling of fur, does it have to look like the real thing?