Why Do Otters Hold Hands?

I often see photos of otters holding hands while sleeping in the water and have often wondered why. I wanted to write this article to let you know why otters hold hands and to answer some other questions about their sleeping habits

Otters can sleep on land and in the water. They hold hands with other otters to stop them from drifting apart and losing each other. Holding hands also protects them from predators as they can sleep further away from land.

I wanted to find out why they sleep holding hands with other otters, and how they choose which otters to hold hands with. The information I found surprised me.

If you or someone you know loves otters check out some of my favorite otter gifts on Amazon.

Why do Otters Hold Hands When Asleep?

You may have seen photos of otters, or even seen otters in the wild holding hands. They do this while asleep in the water.  The reason why otters hold hands with each other is to avoid drifting from each other in the sea while they are sleeping. 


Otters have a fear of losing their family members while they are sleeping or relaxing. Another likely reason as to why otters hold hands may be due to fear of losing their female partner to another male.  There is high competition between male otters when it comes to finding a mate, and for a male to mate, they have to keep the female near.

The other 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 molting season. Their fur helps them to stay buoyant in the water, and so they must keep their fur clean to give them this natural buoyancy. 

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

How Otters Pick who to Hold Hands With?

Otters will not hold hands with any random otters. They will pick an otter from their family or their mate. They do this so as not to drift apart while they are asleep.  

Holding hands while sleeping is essential. When a baby sea otter is too small to hold hands, they ride on top of their mother. When the female parent has to hunt, they wrap their pups in seaweed. By wrapping them in seaweed, the pups do not float away. 

Otters utilize kelp by wrapping themselves in long strands of kelp which grows from the seafloor up to the surface of the water. They use the kelp as an anchor so they can sleep without any fear of floating out to the open ocean. 


How Do Otters Sleep?

Otters have no particular place where they sleep, but will always look for somewhere with less disturbance. They will 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 strands of kelp, which keeps them from drifting too far.  

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 that have built them, invading them to make them their own. These dens are located into the ground that has many inner chambers. 

The North America river otter lives in a holt or den. These are constructed by other animals and can be under a log or in the river bank. Their place of living has an entrance which may be underwater or above ground, which leads to a nest chamber lined with leaves, grass, moss, bark, and hair. 

North America 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 getting out onto dry land.

Do Otters Hold Hands With Their Pups?

The parents hold hands while sleeping with their pup so as they don’t drift away from each other. Otters also hold hands with each other and form what is called a raft. They always do this while sleeping and resting, and is to keep families from drifting apart.

Another reason why otters hold hands is for protection against drifting too far from their source of food. They understand the current can move them far from their food source, and the added weight of a raft helps them not to drift.

Do all types of otters hold hands whilst sleeping?

Only sea otters hold hands and swim with most of their body out of the water. River otters are almost entirely submerged and swim with their back up. River otters sleep specifically on land while the sea otter sleeps in the water. The other otter species don’t have adaptations to enable them to be able to float on their backs in the water.


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. 

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

What are the Otters Behavior Whilst Sleeping?

Sea otters often float on the water’s surface, lying on their back to sleep. Otters sometimes float in forests of kelp, or giant seaweed, 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.  Sea otters will not sleep without checking they have their pups on their chest above the water. 

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

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 even from other species.

If you or someone you know loves otters check out some of my favorite otter gifts on Amazon.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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