Cooperative problem solving in giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea)

Martin Schmelz, Shona Duguid, Manuel Bohn, Christoph Johannes Voelter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperative problem solving has gained a lot of attention over the past two decades but the range of species studied is still small. This limits the possibility of understanding the evolution of the socio-cognitive underpinnings of cooperation. Lutrinae show significant variations in socio-ecology but their cognitive abilities are not well studied. In the first experimental study of otter social cognition, we presented two species - giant otters and Asian small-clawed otters - with a cooperative problem-solving task. The loose string task requires two individuals to simultaneously pull on either end of a rope in order to access food. This task has been used with a larger number of species (for the most part primates and birds) and thus allows for wider cross species comparison. We found no differences in performance between species. Both giant otters and Asian small-clawed otters were able to solve the task successfully when the coordination requirements were minimal. However, when the temporal coordination demands were increased, performance decreased either due to a lack of understanding of the role of a partner or due to difficulty inhibiting action. In conclusion, two species of otters show some ability to cooperate, quite similar to most other species presented with the same task. However, to draw further conclusions and more nuanced comparisons between the two otter species further studies with varied methodologies will be necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1107-1114
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date24 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Lutrinae
  • Social Cognition
  • Cooperation
  • Loose string task
  • Giant otter
  • Asian small-clawed otter


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