And now for something otterly different!

The giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the largest of all otter species. (The largest recorded size is 2.4 meters!) These amphibious mammals are very social and live in groups of up to 20 members. They are also the noisiest of all otter species, with 22 distinct types of vocalizations. [1]


Giant otters can be found in the rivers of the Amazon basin hunting mainly for fish, but sometimes taking on larger animals like the anaconda and caiman. Even though these mammals may prey on some very formidable foes, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a soft side. Due to their good looks, otters enjoy quite the fan base online. Hundreds of photos and videos have been shared of these quirky animals on dedicated reddit pages.


The giant otter has been listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List due to habitat contamination, overfishing of prey, and infrastructure interference. The current population of giant otters is therefore fragmented and relatively small. The International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) has been set up to help protect the 13 species of otters worldwide, including the giant otter, and help this unique family of mammals. Today, we are releasing a de novo genome assembly for the giant otter generated using our $1K model (see Dudchenko et al., 2018 for details). The samples used in this assembly come from the pair of giant otters Ella and Dru living at Moody Gardens, Galveston, TX. That’s them in the photos below!


Ella was captive born at the Philadelphia Zoo in 2008, she is the older sister to Dru who was captive born at the Philadelphia Zoo in 2009. All captive giant otters are owned by the Brazilian government and Moody Gardens work together with other AZA zoos in a cooperative management program to ensure long-term sustainability of the giant otter population.

Giant otter Dru. Photo credit: Moody Gardens. All otters have a distinct throat patch markings, notice Dru’s!
Giant otter Ella. Photo credit: Moody Gardens. Ella’s throat patch markings are almost non-existent, with mostly brown on her throat.

We thank Paula Kovig and Karen Holcroft for their help with the samples used for this genome assembly!


This is the forth genome assembly in the Mustelidae (weasel) family in our collection, after the sea otter Enhydra lutris, here, the Eurasian otter Lutra lutra, here, and the domestic ferret Mustela putorius furo, here. See how the Mustelidae assemblies relate to each other on the whole genome alignment plot below.

Whole genome alignment plots for Mustelidae assemblies at the DNA Zoo: the giant otter (Pteronura_brasiliensis_HiC), the sea otter (ASM228890v2_HiC), the Eurasian otter (mLutLut1.1), and the domestic ferret (MusPutFur1.0_HiC).

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