If you’ve ever seen an otter eat a snack, you’ll know they’re pretty cute. But it turns out when it comes to getting those snacks, otters may be smarter than we give them credit for. New research shows that when otters learn new survival tips and tricks, they actually teach these strategies to their friends and family.
The research from The Royal Society analyzed Asian short-clawed otters, the smallest of all otter species, to learn more about their behavior and intelligence. They gave select otters clear containers filled with meatballs and found that when one otter learned how to open the container, its friends subsequently learned how to open it more quickly. This discovery indicates that otters are not only intelligent but learn and teach each other survival skills. They have the ability to practice what researchers call “social learning.”
In addition to teaching each other how to solve the snack puzzle, when the otters were presented with the same containers months after their first encounter, they were able to open them 69 percent faster, evidence that they also have impressive long term memory.
In addition to demonstrating how intelligent the species is, this discovery could also help conservationists save the species. Asian short-clawed otters are native to South Asia, ranging from the Himalaya foothills of India to Indonesia and the Philippines. They are under threat from deforestation and overfishing of their food supply, but exposing new food sources to select otters could be an effective way of communicating these survival tactics to entire populations.
A better understanding of how animals learn and communicate provides valuable information on how to protect them and reminds us that these animals are often far more intelligent than we give them credit for.