Otters: Cute, Playful, Geniuses? | Animal IQ

From PBS Terra.

Otters are super cute little gymnastic socialites. Are they intelligent or just specialists?

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Otters are some of the most beloved creatures in the water. They draw crowds for their puppy-like playfulness, their social intelligence, and their tendency to hold hands for safety. Humans just can’t get enough! But have you thought about the intellect underneath that slick, furry exterior? How smart are these Mustelidae? Can they solve puzzles (yep!) Do otters cooperate with each other? (sometimes!) Can otters understand the relationships they’ve built with other otters? What about with humans? Do they know themselves? We called Christy Sterling from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to find out!

On Animal IQ we dig into the research and talk to the experts to find out just how smart animals appear to be. We then use that knowledge to fill in our AIQ Rubric across five domains of intelligence: Social, Rational, Awareness, Ecological, and our own intelligence X-Factor. Every animal is clever, but their talents vary based on their evolution, biology, values, adaptations and environment. We hope y’all learn how each of our animals tick on Animal IQ!

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You can also seek out our experts and hosts here:
:: Shedd Aquarium ::
https://www.sheddaquarium.org
:: Christy Sterling ::
https://www.sheddaquarium.org/about-shedd/leadership/animal-experts/christy-sterling
:: Dr Natalia Borrego ::
Instagram: https://instagram.com/untamedbiologist
Lion Lab website: https://lioncenter.umn.edu/natalia-borrego/
:: Trace Dominguez ::
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tracedominguez
Instagram: https://instagram.com/tracedominguez
YouTube: https://youtube.com/tracedominguez

📚 READ MORE
Tummy rumbles? Otters juggle pebbles when hungry, study finds
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/may/06/tummy-rumbles-otters-juggle-pebbles-probably-when-peckish
Whether tossing pebbles between their paws or rolling stones on their chest and even into their mouth, otters are experts at rock juggling. Now researchers say the behaviour largely appears to be linked to a rumbling tummy.

Mitogenomes and relatedness do not predict frequency of tool-use by sea otters
https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2016.0880
Many ecological aspects of tool-use in sea otters are similar to those in Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Within an area, most tool-using dolphins share a single mitochondrial haplotype and are more related to each other than to the population as a whole. The lack of genetic association among tool-using sea otters compared with dolphins may result from the length of time each species has been using tools. Tool-use in dolphins appears to be a relatively recent innovation (less than 200 years) but sea otters have probably been using tools for many thousands or even millions of years.

Cooperative problem solving in giant otters
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-017-1126-2
In the wild, some species of otters live in large semi-cooperative groups. A European research team tested the performance of two species of otters on a widely-used cooperative problem solving task. If two animals pulled both ends of the rope simultaneously, the board would move toward them, putting the treats within reach. When otters were given the ends of the rope at the same time, they were able to cooperate and pull the board towards them to obtain the reward. Even though they weren’t totally successful, their performance was about the same as several other relatively intelligent species, including African grey parrots and ravens.

Fun fact: Otters are related to badgers, muskrats, wolverines and skunks.