1. ITV Report

Anglia Ruskin researchers discover 'social learning' among otter groups

Researchers studying the behaviour of otters have found they learn from each other to help them solve puzzles.

Smooth-coated otters were found to copy each other to work out tasks. Credit: Anglia Ruskin University.

Academics from Anglia Ruskin University alongside University of Exeter and University of Leeds designed a study where captive otters were given foraging tasks – with bits of foods put in sealed containers.

The animals were observed trying to open the containers to get to the treats.

They found:

  • Smooth-coated otters observed each other completing tasks – such as retrieving food from a container sealed with clips, or ones with screw-top/pull-off lids – and copied the behaviour in order to extract their own food.
  • Younger otters learnedhow to solve the puzzles more than six times faster than their parents.
  • Asian short-clawed otters showed no sign of copying each other.

The last find was a shock to researchers who expected to find similar traits in both species.

It was amazing to see otters copying each other to unscrew containers and undo clips to get to their reward: sprats or shrimp provided great motivation.

They have complex social relationships, even within families, and their group dynamics are always changing.

– Zosia Ladds, Anglia Ruskin researcher