We're still in Guyana, South America, lolling around with a giant Amazon otter and a Neotropical river otter. Yeah, I know. I can't believe it either. And yes, I had a lot of trouble not jumping out of my own skin with delight and joy and the pure blessedness of it all. Ask anyone who was on the trip with me.
Remember in looking at these pictures that this is a very young giant Amazon otter. A big male can exceed six feet, making him the longest mustelid in the world. Historical records have big males reaching 7.9 feet, and approaching 90 lb. Now that is a whole lot of otter. A big male these days can weigh in at more than 70 lb.--not as much as the burlier sea otter, but quite a chunk of muscle nonetheless.
I was impressed by the strength of the otter's neck and jaws. That long, broad skull anchors some very impressive masseter muscles. Imagine chewing the head off a live perch and you'll get some idea of the crushing power of the otter's jaws and broad, white teeth. Giant otters also take crustaceans, small caimans, snakes, turtles and even herons as prey! No wonder River Wolf is one of the otter's nicknames. It's an apex predator in its watery world. Hunting together, a pack or River Wolves must be a fearsome thing, even for a piranha.
Because my curiosity and affection for animals almost always overrides my fear, I tussled with the otters as their foster mother Diane McTurk does, petting and playing with them. They are mammalian Möbius bands, endlessly rolling and turning in on themselves in sinuous loops, never still, flowing like furry water. I adored messing with them. The only problem being: I am not Diane, and the otters let me know that.
At one point, the giant otter paused in his lolling around, raised his head and stared briefly at me in what I realized too late was a direct threat. A lightning fast one, but a warning. I was squatting next to him, tousling his fur, and suddenly sensing that he was displeased, I withdrew my hand and pulled both arms in close to my body. But it was too late. His big flat head lashed out like a snake's, and those fearsome jaws closed around my right wrist.
Oh, please. Not that one. I draw with that one.
His jaws were a spiked vise, and one canine broke the skin through the double cuff of my nylon shirt. Wow. In the spectrum of otter bites, I'm sure what I'd just gotten was a warning nip. The pressure was nevertheless bruising, tremendous. Egad, I would hate to have a full bite from a highly annoyed otter. One nip, and it was over, and I took him at his word and didn't mess with him any more, deciding that the less-irritable Neotropical river otter was more my speed. I was glad that no direct contact had been made between his tooth and my skin. With very few exceptions, I make it a point to wear long sleeves at all times in the tropics, no matter how stinkin' hot it is. I was grateful I'd had the sense to keep my sleeves rolled down when he bit me.
I picked at the little giant otter tooth hole in my wrist for the rest of the trip, hoping to bring a visible scar back for my family, but alas it healed nicely and is now just a tiny whitish spot. Pfft. I will now send you to ARKive.or for some moving delights. If you listen closely you can hear the otters squalling and squeaking in the video in this link. Sigh. Steamy ol' Guyana's a long way away from my snowy Ohio. Don't miss this big sloppy pile o' sunning otters, either.