IUCN Otter Specialist Group . . . leading global otter conservation Last Update: Thursday April 23, 2015
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Hydrictis maculicollis (Lichtenstein, 1835 ), the Spotted-Necked Otter

:: Hydrictis maculicollis
Click on the images below to see more of this species
Lutra maculicollis, copyright Jan Reed-Smith
Lutra maculicollis, copyright Jan Reed-Smith
Spot-Necked Otter eating fish
More photos would be welcomed



This medium-sized otter is around 1.1m long and weighs about 6kg. The fur can be very variable in colour but is usually dark brown, with distinctive spots and streaks of paler colour on the throat, neck and often upper lip. The paws are fully webbed, with well-developed claws, but the teeth are rather small. It is long and sleek, and more aquatic than the other African otters. The teeth are specialised for catching fish, rather than the broad, crustacean-crushing molars of the clawless otters, although in less fish-rich parts of the range, fish, crabs and frogs form the diet in roughly equal proportions.

The basic social unit is mother and cubs but this species can be quite social. At times groups of adult males, juveniles, or multiple females and young are known to associate for several days or hours if adequate prey and habitat is available. As adult males age they appear to become more solitary but home ranges can overlap. Group foraging has been observed but not cooperative hunting. This species can be quite social, forming large single-sex groups which swim together at certain times of year if there is sufficient prey to support them.

The taxonomic position of this species has recently been revised and is now classified as Hydrictis maculicollis Pocock 1921 based on DNA evidence (Koepfli et al. 2008, Sato et al 2012). Historically it has been known as Lutra and Hydrictis.

CITES Identification Sheet

Afrikaans: Kleinotter
English: Spotted-Necked Otter, Speckle-throated Otter
French: Loutre à cou tachete
German: Fleckenhalsotter
Kiswahili: Fisi maji mdongo
Tswana: leNyibi
Zulu: inTini
Italian: Lontra del caollo macchiato
Spanish: Nutria de cuello manchado


Spotted-Necked Otters are very aquatic and require permanent water sources with high fish densities. They prefer larger rivers, lakes and swamps with open areas of water. They appear to only make use of fresh water habitats. Because they mainly hunt by sight, they need clear, unpolluted water where there are numerous small fish, or fish, crabs and frogs. Long reeds, grass, bushes, or large rocky shorelines are essential to provide cover for resting and denning. Currently the most suitable habitat is the large fish-rich African lakes and the deep, clear areas of the Botswanan Okovango.


Their historic distribution is large, but their population is believed to be in decline throughout their range with pockets of strong populations. It occured in all countries south of Sahara, from Senegal to Ethiopia and south to the Cape provinces where there is suitable habitat. Currently it is considered possibly still present in 13 countries, confirmed presence within the last 10 years in 19 countries, and believed to be extirpated in four countries.

Conservation Status

Red List Category Near Threatened, Decreasing
Year Assessed 2014
Assessor Reed-Smith, J., Jacques, H., Somers, M.
Evaluators Hussain, S.A. (Otter Red List Authority) & Duplaix, N.

Current Concerns

The IUCN Red-List 2014 assessment states: "The Spotted-necked otter is decreasing throughout its range, mainly as a result of the alteration or degradation of freshwater habitats and riparian vegetation. This rapid habitat loss is exacerbated by a growing, poor population engaged in unsustainable agricultural activity and unsustainable fishing practices. These practices have led to bank and shoreline erosion, denuding of important vegetative cover used by the otters, increased human presence which is disruptive to otter denning, increased use of smaller mesh nets and poisoning to improve catches, and the change or depletion of the otters prey base. Pollution of waters with agricultural, livestock, and societal wastes also are threatening with evidence of the bioaccumulation of organochlorines and other biocontaminants recorded in Spotted-necked Otters. The rate of otters becoming entangled in set and discarded fishing nets is impossible to determine however, based on known entanglement of other species it has likely increased over the occassional drowning reported previously. Otters are also killed for food or skins, as a perceived threat to poultry, or as a competitor for fish. Introduction of alien fish species that out-compete the smaller indigenous fish was identified as a main threat for the Lake Victoria population."

Although international and national level legal protection is in place, enforcement is needed. There is a need for increasing local awareness of the species.

Leading Researchers

A. Lejeune, I. d'Inzillo Carranza, M.A.E. Mortimer, J. Procter, D. Rowe-Rowe, M. Somers, J. Reed-Smith

Key Publications

  • Kruuk, H. & Goudswaard, P.C. (1990) Effects of Changes in Fish Populations in Lake Victoria on the Food of Otters (Hydrictis maculicollis Schinz and Aonyx capensis Lichtenstein) (sic) Afr. J Ecol 28: 322 – 329
  • Larivière, S. (2002) Hydrictis maculicollis. Mammalian Species 712 : 1 – 6, 3 figs.
  • Lejeune, A. (1989a) Ethologie des Loutres (Hydrictis maculicollis) au lac Muhazi, Rwanda.  Mammalia 53 : 191 – 202
  • Lejeune, A. (1989b) Les loutres, Lutra (Hydrictis) maculicollis Licht. et la Pêche Artisanale. J. Afr. Zool. 103: 215 - 223
  • Lejeune, A. (1990) Ecologie Alimentaire de la loutre (Hydrictis maculicollis) au lac Muhazi, Rwanda.  Mammalia 54 : 33 – 45
  • Mortimer M.A.E. (1963) Notes on the Biology and Behaviour of the Spotted-Necked Otter (Hydrictis maculicollis).  Puku 1: 192 – 20
  • Nel, J.A.J. & Somers, M. (1998). The status of otters in Africa: An assessment. Proceedings of the VII International Otter Symposium, 13-19 March 1998. Trebon, Czech Republic.
  • Perrin, M.R. & d’Inzillo Carranza, I. (1999) Capture, Immobilization and Measurements of the Spotted-Necked Otter in the Natal Drakensberg,  South Africa. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res29: 52 – 53
  • Perrin, M.R. & d’Inzillo Carranza, I. (2000a) Activity Patterns of Spotted-Necked Otters in the Natal Drakensberg, South Africa.  S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 30: 1 – 7
  • Perrin, M.R. & d’Inzillo Carranza, I. (2000b) Habitat Use by Spotted-Necked Otters in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, South Africa.  S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 30: 8 - 14
  • Perrin, M.R. & d’Inzillo Carranza, I.  & Linn, I. J. (2000) Use of Space by the Spotted-Necked Otter in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakenberg, South Africa.  S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 30: 15 – 21
  • Procter, J. (1963) A Contribution to the Natural History of the Spotted-Necked Otter (Hydrictis maculicollis Licht.) in Tanganyika.  E. Afr. Wildl. J. 1: 93 – 102
  • Reed-Smith, J. (2010). An Assessment of Seasonality and Shoreine Characteristics Associated with Latrine Site Use by Spotted-necked otter (Lutra maculicollis Lichtenstein, 1835) with a Preliminary Report on Spotted-necked Otter Behaviour on Rubondo Island National Park, Tanzania. George Mason Univ. M.A. Project.
  • Reed-Smith, J., I. Olouch, M. Origa, T.S. Kiheu, M.M. Muhabi, M.M. Yusuf, M. Ogada, A. Lobura, T. Serfass. (2010). Consumptive uses of and lore pertaining to spotted-necked otters in East Africa - a preliminary report from the Lake Victoria area of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 27(2):85-88; 2010.
  • Reed-Smith, J., T. Serfass, T.S. Kihudu, M. Mussa. (2014). Preliminary Report on the Behaviour of Spotted-Necked otter (Lutra maculicollis, Lichtenstein, 1835) Living in A Lentic Ecosystem. Zoo Biology 32(2) Mar/Apr 2014:121-130.
  • Rowe-Rowe, D. T. (1977a). Food ecology of otters in Natal, South Africa. Oikos 28:210-219.
  • Rowe-Rowe, D. T. (1977b). Prey capture and feeding behaviour of South African otters. The Lammergeyer 23:13-21. Rowe-Rowe, D. T. (1992). Survey of South African otters in a fresh-water habitat, using sign. South African J. of Wildl. Research 22:49-55.
  • Rowe-Rowe, D.T. (1990). Action plan for African otters: 41 - 51. In: Otters: An action plan for their conservation. IUCN/SSC,  Gland, Switzerland.
  • Rowe-Rowe, D.T. (1995). Distribution and status of African otters. In: Reuther, C. & Rowe-Rowe, D. (Eds) Proc. V l International Otter Colloquium,  Pietermaritzburg 1993. Habitat 11 : 8 - 1 0.
  • Rowe-Rowe, D.T. & Somers, M.J. (1998). Diet, foraging behaviour,  and coexistence of African otters and the water mongoose. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 71: 216-227
  • Smith, L. (1993) Otters and Gillnet Fishing in Lake Malawi National Park IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 8: 4 -6
  • Somers, M.J.& M.G. Purves, (1996). Trophic overlap between three syntopic semi-aquatic carnivores: Cape clawless otter, spotted neck otter and water mongoose. African J. of Ecology 34:158-166.

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