Today’s otter image comes via Project Gutenberg. It’s a rendition of an otter skull, from Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon, Robert A. Sterndale, 1884. The author’s introduction makes it clear that he believes there had been no previous study of regional mammals outside of central Empire holdings. He goes on to begin his natural history with a cataloguing of the Indigenous humans of the area, and some speculation about “Monkey-men” of the jungle.
On to the otter:
Some of the accompanying text:
For a pretty picture of young otters at play in the water, nothing could be better than the following description from Kingsley’s ‘Water Babies’:—
“Suddenly Tom heard the strangest noise up the stream—cooing, grunting, and whining, and squeaking, as if you had put into a bag two stock-doves, nine mice, three guinea-pigs, and a blind puppy, and left them there to settle themselves and make music. He looked up the water, and there he saw a sight as strange as the noise: a great ball rolling over and over down the stream, seeming one moment of soft brown fur; and the next of shining glass, and yet it was not a ball, for sometimes it broke up and streamed away in pieces, and then it joined again; and all the while the noise came out of it louder and louder. Tom asked the dragon-fly, what it could be: but of course with his short sight he could not even see it, though it was not ten yards away. So he took the neatest little header into the water, and started off to see for himself; and when he came near, the ball turned out to be four or five beautiful creatures, many times larger than Tom, who were swimming about, and rolling, and diving, and twisting, and wrestling, and cuddling, and kissing, and biting, and scratching, in the most charming fashion that ever was seen. And if you don’t believe me you may go to the Zoological Gardens (for I am afraid you won’t see it nearer, unless, perhaps, you get up at five in the morning, and go down to Cordery’s Moor, and watch by the great withy pollard which hangs over the back-water, where the otters breed sometimes), and then say if otters at play in the water are not the merriest, lithest, gracefullest creatures you ever saw.”
Professor Parker, who also notices Kingsley’s description, states that the Canadian otter has a peculiar habit in winter of sliding down ridges of snow, apparently for amusement. It, with its companions, scrambles up a high ridge, and then, lying down flat, glides head-foremost down the declivity, sometimes for a distance of twenty yards. “This sport they continue apparently with the keenest enjoyment, until fatigue or hunger induces them to desist.” […]
General McMaster also quotes from a letter by “W. C. R.” in the Field about the end of 1868, which gives a very curious incident of a crocodile stealing up to a pack of otters fishing, and got within thirty yards; “but no sooner was the water broken by the hideous head of the reptile, than an otter, which evidently was stationed on the opposite bank as a sentinel, sounded the alarm by a whistling sort of sound. In an instant those in the water rushed to the bank and disappeared among the jungle, no doubt much to the disgust of the mugger.”
I have not heard any one allude to the offensive glands of the Indian otter, but I remember once dissecting one and incautiously cutting into one of these glands, situated, I think, near the tail. It is now over twenty years ago, so I cannot speak with authority, but I remember the abominable smell, which quite put a stop to my researches at the time.
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