Otters learn from each other, but solve some puzzles on your own

Asian short-clawed otters. Credit: Madison Bowden-Parry

Otters learn skills from each other, but they also solve some mysteries on their own, new research shows.

Scientists from the University of Exeter gave Asian short-clawed otters “puzzle boxes” with famous foodand unknown natural prey whose flesh inside was protected by hard outer shells.

The otters in the study, which live at the Newquay Zoo and the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Center, decided whether food was safe and desirable to eat by learning from each other.

But they used their own mind – not the example of others – to figure out how to make the… food products of their protection.

“Much research into the extractive foraging and learning capabilities of otters has focused on artificial food puzzles,” said lead author Alex Saliveros of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Here we were interested in exploring such skills in the context of unknown natural prey, as well as in relation to artificial food puzzles.”

The team studied the otters social groups before the food tests, meaning the scientists knew how often each Otter associated with other individuals.

Social learning can then be measured by looking at whether close employees learn quickly from each other.

The otters were given five variations of the puzzle box, each with a meatball (a familiar food) exposed inside. The method of extracting the food varied in each version — with solutions such as pulling a tab and opening a valve.

The natural prey were rainbow trout (which acted more as a control given the lack of a protective shell), beach crabs and blue mussels.

Of the 20 otters in the study, 11 managed to extract the meat from all three types of natural prey.

“Asian short-clawed otters are declining in the wild, and understanding their behavior could help develop conservation and reintroduction programs,” Saliveros said.

“The captive otters in this study initially struggled with natural prey, but they showed they can learn how to extract the food.

“Our findings suggest that if you give an otter pre-release training, it can pass on some of that information to others.”

The article, published in the magazine Royal Society Open Scienceis titled: “Captive Asian Short-clawed Otters (Aonyx cinereus) learn unknown natural prey

Surprised otters learn from each other

More information:
Captive Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) learn to exploit unknown natural prey, Royal Society Open Science (2022). DOI: 10.1098/

Quote: Otters learn from each other, but solve some puzzles alone (2022, June 7) retrieved June 8, 2022 from

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