Cute Pictures of Baby Otters at Cleveland Zoo Go Viral

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomed a litter of three male otter pups on Friday, November 17. The pups were born on September 24. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

A Cleveland zoo released photos of an adorable, fuzzy otter trio on Friday. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo said the three male pups were born back in September to Bitzy (mom) and Kibble (dad).

"We were aware Bitzy was pregnant based on body weight and body shape," the zoo's animal curator Tad Schoffner told Newsweek in an email. "The otters are given their privacy and typically staff does not even know for a few days that there was a birth because the parents tend to be very protective when the pups are in their most vulnerable state."

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Bitzy—born and raised in the Cleveland zoo—is a first-time mother, and she's already on her way to being a great otter mom.

"We had a good feeling about her," said Schoffner.

This species, Asian small-clawed otters, lives in a matriarchal society, said Schoffner. Their parents teach them to swim by picking them up and throwing them in the water. Kibble—the father, who was born at an Omaha zoo—was eager to teach the kids how to swim and threw one of them into the pool. Bitzy clearly thought it was too soon, snatching the pup out of the water and putting him back with the others.

The three male pups have yet to be named, and they still weigh less than a pound. A zookeeper saw the pups playing with one another just Thursday, indicating they're developing well so far. Unique to the Asian small-clawed otter are their handlike front paws, which have reduced webbing to allow them to forage for their prey, including crustaceans, mollusks and small fish.

At the zoo, "we offer enrichment opportunities where they can use their hands to retrieve food from inside a spiraled plate and to grab fish from within a plastic ball," said Schoffner. "These enrichment items help the animals mimic action they would use in the wild to find food."

Typically, females of this otter species are pregnant for 60 to 64 days and can produce two litters per year. Each litter is between one and six pups. The pups don't open their eyes for around 40 days, swim at nine weeks and eat solid food nearly three months after birth.

unnamed (1)
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomed a litter of three male otter pups on Friday, November 17, 2017. The pups were born on September 24, 2017. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Asian small-clawed otters are native to northwest India to southeastern China, the Malay peninsula, southern India, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. It's the smallest species in the otter family, and though there are some solitary otters, they typically live in big families of around a dozen otters. Their "vocabulary" is at least 12 or more different types of otter calls and basic instinctive cries.

The creatures are diurnal—indicating they are awake during the daytime—and prefer tree coverage in permanent bodies of water including rivers, creeks, estuaries and coastal waters. They feed on crabs, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs and fish in the wild.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Sometimes, these otters will forage for clams in shallow waters, bring them back to shore, pile them up and let them sit in the sun. After a few hours, the clams will open up and the otters eat them. They will also hunt in rice fields for crayfish, which helps farmers rid their fields of the crustaceans that can damage their crops. They even "wash" their food before eating it—similar to raccoons. In the zoo, they are fed a canine diet mixed with cat food for less active cats, according to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

unnamed (2)
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomed a litter of three male otter pups on Friday, November 17, 2017. The pups were born on September 24, 2017. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

The Asian small-clawed otter is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and their population is managed by a Species Survival Plan in zoos that are certified under the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, according to the Cleveland zoo.

These creatures can live up to 15 years in human care, though their lifespan in the wild is unknown, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. They're threatened by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. They are an excellent biological indicator species, which means their numbers help scientists understand the health of the surrounding environment. They are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem, but are sensitive to habitat destruction and pollution.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Increased development and changing land-use patterns have caused populations of the Asian small-clawed otter to decline in the past 60 years. In India specifically, tea and coffee plantations along the hills and the loss of mangroves along the coast have affected the population. Pesticides used on nearby plantations also lower the quality of habitat and can harm the physiology of otters.