Potamogale – Giant otter shrew

Got their common name due to their resemblance to otters and shrews, but not true otters nor shrews

One of the most notable features of the giant otter shrew is its dense, dual-layered coat. The undercoat provides insulation, keeping the animal warm in its aquatic environment, while the coarse guard hairs on the upper side of the body are dark brown, offering camouflage against the murky waters of its habitat. In contrast, the underside of the giant otter shrew is whitish, which may help in blending with the brighter surface of the water when viewed from below.

The animal’s flat and broad muzzle is another distinctive adaptation. Covered with sensitive whiskers, it is highly adapted for a life spent foraging in water. These whiskers play a crucial role in navigation and hunting, compensating for the otter shrew’s reliance on senses other than eyesight. Additionally, the muzzle features flaps that can close over the nostrils during dives, preventing water from entering the respiratory system.

The tail of the giant otter shrew is covered in short, silky fur and is laterally flattened, much like that of a fish. This adaptation is particularly useful for propulsion in water, allowing the otter shrew to swim with an efficient, fish-like motion that is both graceful and effective for navigating its aquatic environment.

Giant otter shrews are adept engineers, constructing burrows with entrances submerged below the water level. These burrows not only serve as a refuge from predators but also as a place for resting and rearing young. Their nocturnal hunting expeditions are quite the spectacle. They forage along riverbanks and within pools, preying on a variety of aquatic and semi-aquatic organisms, including crabs, frogs, fishes, insects, freshwater prawns, and mollusks. The reliance on their highly sensitive whiskers for detecting prey in the dark, murky waters underscores their remarkable adaptation to a life intertwined with aquatic environments.