THE OLD ADAGE that there is strength in numbers certainly rings true when it comes to smooth-coated otters. Recently in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore, a family of these creatures were seen battling a crocodile—which, one might think, was not the wisest idea for these small mammals.
It turns out, though, that otters are incredibly territorial, and will not shy away from chasing much larger predators out of their home range, says N. Sivasothi (a.k.a. The Otterman), a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore. Though it might seem like the crocodile could dispatch one of the otters with a single chomp, these fierce mammals can in fact deliver powerful bites and are aggressive when provoked, to the point that it often makes more sense for the crocodile to back off than to engage.
“These smooth-coated otters are harassing a competitor and potential threat to their safety”, Sivasothi explains. “Top predators do this to each other [and] sometimes it could be the otters that move away”.
Luckily, wildlife photographer Jeffery Teo was there to catch the scene on video. He has seen otters and crocodiles both chasing each other in this area, a behaviour he’s witnessed five or six times in the last half-decade. It’s an inescapable result of the two species having to coexist with each other, he adds. (Related: Two Hungry Jaguars Are No Match for This Plucky Otter)
A live sea otter finds sanctuary in the Homer boat harbour in Alaska.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
In the confrontation, the otters are seen periscoping in and out of the water, hesitating to cross the wetlands. A crocodile without a tail, aptly named by local wildlife watchers, “Tailless”, swims not far from the otters. A tense inter-species territorial battle ensues. (Related: How 3D Printing Helped Mr. Stubbs, The Tailless Alligator)
The otters circle the crocodile, harassing it. Although outmatched by the deadly jaws of the reptile, the agile otters managed to chase off the apex predator and cross safely to the other side of the wetlands.
Besides their teeth and attitude, the otters are quite intelligent, which comes in handy when confronting and mobbing a croc. Fishermen in Bangladesh employ these smarts, using the animals to drive fish into nets. (Related: This Ancient Japanese Tradition Uses Birds to Catch Fish)
The otters are more threatened by people than crocodiles, due to habitat loss and poaching, and are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.