An unexpected mammal

Neotropical Otter seen swimming in Laguna Zoncho on 3 March 2013. Photo by Harry Hull

Neotropical Otter seen swimming in Laguna Zoncho on 3 March 2013. Photo by Harry Hull

At Finca Cantaros over the years since 1994, we or our visitors to the reserve have observed mammals small and large. From the more frequently seen squirrels and agoutis to armadillos, coatis and opossum, such fauna are a welcome addition to the more active and varied bird life of the finca. But it is always noteworthy—and an adrenaline rush—to see one of the larger mammals, and a jaguarundi, sloth, and tayra have been known visitors. So it became a special Sunday, March 3, 2013 when I encountered a surprise at 6:30 a.m.: on the opposite shore of Laguna Zoncho, I spotted a completely white otter, walking fluidly on the shore, then slipping without a ripple into the water. I raced home to wake up Harry, an inveterate late sleeper, and he arrived in time to snap several photos of the otter, with its white fur, pink ears, pink nose, and dark eyes, swimming and diving with abandon on the north side of the lake. And then it disappeared. Harry produced a YouTube video–see below–using still photos along with some morning background sounds.

The duck in the upper right corner of the diving sequence photos is a Common Moorhen and permanent resident of our laguna.

Although we originally reported to our lay and scientific friends that we had seen an albino otter, we came to learn that its normally colored dark eyes means that it is leucistic; i.e., with reduced pigmentation due to a single regressive gene. Leucism can occur in almost all species of animals, but it is especially common, apparently, in birds. For more on this interesting topic, you can visit here and/or here.

About three weeks elapsed before the next sighting on March 25 at 5:20 pm. The otter

Neotropical Otter on shore of Laguna Zoncho. This is a somewhat blurry still from the video above.

Neotropical Otter on shore of Laguna Zoncho. This is a somewhat blurry still taken from the video above.

was eating something in the grass and resting, before again swimming diving in the laguna and moving into thick grass. Then there were several more sightings, some by our groundsman, Johel Arias, one by some thrilled German campers, and by us. After sightings both mornings and evenings of April 11 and 12, including seeing the otter consume a fish in just a few bites while treading water, we are reasonably confident that for now we have a new resident of Finca Cantaros! Harry has taken an actual video on April 12–see below–showing the otter swimming in the laguna and briefly exploring the shore.

In addition to the resident Common Moorhens, there are a number of aquatic birds making frequent appearances around the laguna at this time of year—Blue Heron, Green Heron, Blue-winged Teals, Purple Gallinules and Masked Duck. All are mostly unfazed by the otter unless it happens to swim close by; then there are alarm calls and sudden flights. The video above shows such a reaction by a Common Moorhen. In that same scene, you can also see a Green Heron that eventually flies from its perch in the lower left corner of the frame.

So far, the otter seems oddly unconcerned that people are watching it at fairly close range. Though otters are reputed to be shy, this otter seems quite audacious and curious. In the video above, you can see its curiosity of the cameraman and others watching but certainly no fear whatsoever.

We’ll keep you posted!

Gail and Harry

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