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Why Do Otters Hold Hands?

If you have ever seen photos of otters holding hands while sleeping in the water, you may have wondered why. In this article, I look into the reasons why otters hold hands with each other.

Sea otters hold hands to stop them from drifting apart and losing each other when they sleep in the water. Otters fear losing their mate to another male while sleeping. Holding hands helps protect them from predators as they group away from land.

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Why Do Otters Hold Hands When Asleep?

Otters hold hands while they sleep in the water.  One reason why otters hold hands is to avoid drifting away from each other in the water. Otters have a fear of losing their family members while they are sleeping or relaxing. 

Another reason why otters hold hands is the fear of losing their female partner to another male.  There is high competition between male otters when it comes to finding a mate.

The third reason they hold hands is as a way of protecting themselves from predators and hunters. Otter fur is expensive, and the animal is often hunted. When they hold hands with another otter, they can remain away from land, making it harder for hunters to kill them.

The fur of an otter is thick, and as the otter sheds, it is replaced gradually rather than in a specific season. Their fur helps them stay buoyant in the water, so they must keep their fur clean to give them this natural buoyancy. 

Otters spend a lot of their time grooming. They spend time cleaning the fur, untangling knots, removing any loose hair, and rubbing the coat to squeeze out any excess water. They also introduce air into the fur by blowing air directly into their coat.

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How Otters Pick who to Hold Hands With?

Otters do not hold hands with just any otter. They will either pick their mate or an otter from their family. They do this so as not to drift apart while they sleep.

Holding hands while sleeping is difficult for babies as they are too small to hold hands. To get around this, they ride on top of their mother. When the female parent has to hunt, they keep their pups safe by wrapping them in seaweed. By doing this, the pups do not float away, and the parent can find them easily. 

Adults also use kelp to stop themselves from floating away when they sleep. The kelp grows from the seafloor up to the surface. By wrapping themselves in long strands of kelp, adults can stay in one place. They use the kelp as an anchor so they can sleep without any fear of floating out to the open ocean. 

Do Otters Hold Hands With Their Pups?

The parents hold hands while sleeping with their pup so they don’t drift away. Very young pups do not hold hands, and they can be seen sitting on the adult’s stomachs. Otters also hold hands with each other and form what is called a raft. They always do this while sleeping and resting, and it is to keep families from drifting apart.

Another reason why otters hold hands is to stop them from drifting too far from their food source. The current can move them away from their food source, and the added weight of others helps them stay in one place.

Do River Otters Sleep Holding Hands?

It is unclear if the river otter does hold hands while sleeping. They do not sleep in water like the sea otter.  The river otter lives in dens, where it is not easy to make observations, and research is unable to answer these questions.

This habit of the sea otter sleeping holding hands is a rare adaptation in mammals. It is one reason which makes these mammals unique from other species.

Do all Otter Species Hold Hands?

Only sea otters hold hands as they swim on their backs with most of their body out of the water. River otters do not hold hands as they are almost entirely submerged when swimming with their back up. River otters sleep on land while the sea otter sleeps in the water. Other otter species aren’t capable of floating on their backs in the water.

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How Do Otters Sleep?

Otters have no particular place where they sleep but will always look for somewhere that is safe. They either sleep in dens or above the ground. 

They can also sleep in the water, where they lay on their backs on the surface.  When sleeping in the sea, otters will usually sleep in kelp strands, which keeps them from drifting too far.  

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Where do Otters Usually Sleep?

Otters do not have a specific place where they live. Otters can be found in almost all parts of North America, where there are wet habitats such as rivers, lakes, oceans, coastlines, and marshes. 

Otters live in dens, but they do not build these themselves. They use the dens from other animals, invading them to make them their own. These dens are located under the ground and have many inner chambers. 

The North American river otter lives in a holt or den. These are constructed by other animals and can be under a log or on the river bank. The dens have an entrance that may be underwater or above ground, which leads to a nest chamber lined with leaves, grass, moss, bark, and hair. 

North American river otters may also use hollow trees or logs, undercut banks, rock formations, backwater sloughs, and flood debris. The use of a den as a resting site is chiefly opportunistic, although locations that provide protection and seclusion are preferred. Sea otters live and sleep in the water, rarely coming onto dry land.

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What Makes the Sea Otter Able to Sleep in Water?

The sea otter has several adaptations that help them to sleep in the water. They have webbed feet and water repellent fur to keep them dry and warm. Their nostrils and ears also close when in the water. 

An otter’s daily grooming activities aim at helping keep them buoyant. Otters keep their fur clean, and they invest a lot of their time to be able to float in the water.

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What is the Otter’s Behavior Whilst Sleeping?

Sea otters float on the water’s surface, lying on their back to sleep. Otters sometimes float in kelp or seaweed forests, in which they entangle themselves to provide anchorage in the sea.  

Otters do more than sleep while floating on their backs.  They are occasionally seen with a clam, mussel, or a rock that they have taken from the sea.  Otters will never forget to hold hands while asleep.  Being social creatures, they understand the habit of holding hands has mutual benefit.  Otters protect their pups while sleeping, and sea otters will not sleep without checking they have their pups on their front above the water. 

If they are not holding hands, sea otters will cover their eyes with their paws to help them sleep.

If you want to know how otters communicate, I have written an article here.