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Zick Gets Perforated

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Neotropical river otter knew where the fish were kept.

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. 


"...mammalian Mobius bands"

As a lover of both animals and math, let me just say writing doesn't get any better than that!
And my new rule for the outdoors: NEVER pet anything with my drawing hand.

I thought this was going to be a post about acupuncture. :) I guess in a way it was.

Ouch! There is a certain odd something-out-of-science-fiction strangeness to them that would have easily encouraged my hands to remain out of the do-not-go zone. When I see large canines and masseter muscles in the same sentence that is my cue to pick up the camera and let someone else do the petting. Would love to have gotten your otter smack down on film! Were there any post crunch expletives involved?

Well, you've got me beaten by a mile. If not bitten.

Loving the blog. Glad I found it.

I checked out the sunning otters...all that wriggling and writhing didn't look very "wrestful" to me!

Chris, your list made me hoot. I especially liked "Pavement Ant." I'm glad to have found you, too. And am hereby working on my list, which now includes manatee and crab-eating raccoon as well as giant otter. Dig it!

I did not swear, TR, as I am a lady. And too shocked to say anything. Didn't want to dance around waving my arm yelling, "HEY! DURN OTTER JUST BIT ME!" If I was going to be that stupid, I wanted to keep it to myself.

Thank you, Cyberthrush. That one sort of bubbled up as I watched them undulate and writhe and double in on themselves. If only I could figure out where the umlaut lives on my Mac keyboard. Anyone?

"Because my curiosity and affection for animals almost always overrides my fear..."

Mine, too. Note to self: Think twice about tussling with mustelids. But who knew Mobius bands bite?
I'm awfully glad he didn't punch your ticket.

I'm glad the bite wasn't any worse. Still, I know how you felt while pushing your luck a bit. I'd have done the same thing... They're just so darned cute!

A fellow traveler was bit by a baboon (just take a look at those canines!) when I was in East Africa. It was trying to snatch her duffle bag and when she resisted it chomped down on her hip. Luckily, between her thick safari jacket and jeans it did not break skin. She did have a nice bruise though and she was planning on getting a tatoo over the bruise when she got home.

I think a little otter's head tatoo would look smashing on your wrist!

"If only I could figure out where the umlaut lives on my Mac keyboard. Anyone?"

the umlaut is produced by hitting the option key and the "u" key, and then hitting the actual letter you need, in this case "u" (within mobius) again. (hope that's clear)

Ouch is right! I watched those short clips - amazed, smiling, and cringing at the size of those lower canines... YOU were very lucky. I'll bet it happened in a fraction of a second without too much warning? We animal fanatics just can't help it. Loving a Giant Otter. Who wouldn't?

Cyberthrush u rokk. Give a man an umlaut and he umlauts for a day. Teach a man to umlaut and he umlauts for life.

Mary, I'm sure the otter felt he gave me ample warning. That's when I found out I'm not fluent in otter.

Have you sent this post (and the previous one) to I'm sure they'd love it.

Meanwhile, we're all pretending we're not jealous. Really.

So, Bob, what'd you do on your vacation?

"Oh, hung out, hit the beach, ya know, the usual."

Julie, what did you do?

"Hmm, lessee... saw a Giant Anteater, got wigged over how he was scared up, told the proper authorities, met a Giant Otter, rolled around with him and his buddy, got bitten (with a whole lotta other stuff in between), and lived to blog about it all. And you?"

Umm... I ... played with the cats, watched Olbermann, read, and got extra insulation blown into my house.

Yikes! They look too Leopard Sealian ... sorta reptomammalian if you get my drift.
Cool that you had a close encounter tho ... I'm partial to those myself :)
I'm assuming you carry hydrogen peroxide, etc to pour into your vacation wounds in the tropics.

So glad your sleeve was down too, though I am sure the scar would have been the topic of oooohs and ahhhhhs in WV! :c) Glad too he only gave you a "warning nip!" Loved the videos.

Honestly, I don't mean to be a pest or paranoid, but remember what I said in the blog about the red bat about pre-exposure rabies prophylaxis? I doubt that was a rabid animal, but mustelidids can carry the virus, too, and if your skin was broken, no, the shirt was unlikely to protect you. For more peace of mind (your's, your family's and ours!) in future I would give your county or state Health Department a call to find out who administers the vaccine. I find that a number of the naturalists I speak with have already had this done, but don't like to admit it! Professional sangfroid, I guess, but for someone in your profession, it makes sense. Look at it like this: you share the same environment a good part of each day with Chet, but you wouldn't think of sending him out there without his shots. What about you?

Great photos and report. You and FC both get your official Steve Irwin bush jackets today!

I love your writing, and sweet jeebus you scared the poo out of me! I'm relieved that you only got a warning "nip."

In profile he has a bit of Nessie about him.

"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..."

First coffee-spew-on-screen of 2009.

I agree with FC, those otters look reptomammalian. They don't look particularly pet-able to me. Not in the way the local sea otters do here, and I wouldn't pet them either. Good thing you weren't really hurt.

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