Facts about the animal kingdom

Animals That Look Like Otters

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. April 28, 2024
Animals That Look Like Otters

Otters are mustelid animals that are known for their mischievous behavior and adorable little faces. With their incredibly dexterous paws, they are able to carry out behaviors which show them to be intelligent and well adapted to their semi-aquatic environment. Despite their undoubted cuteness, it is important to remember they are able hunters and very territorial. Although they pose little danger to a healthy human, there have been accounts of otter attacks. All of these characteristics and traits are particular to otters, but not exclusive. There are other mammals which share physical similarities and behavioral traits. You can find out what they are in this AnimalWised article sharing 10 animals that look like otters with photos.

You may also be interested in: Animals That Look Like Beavers
  1. Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii)
  2. Ferret (Mustela furo)
  3. Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi)
  4. Yellow-bellied weasel (Mustela kathiah)
  5. European mink (Mustela lutreola)
  6. Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)
  7. European polecat (Mustela putorius)
  8. American mink (Neogale vison)
  9. Tayra (Eira barbara)
  10. Fisher (Pekania pennanti)
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Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii)

Our first animal that looks like an otter is the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii). As you can see in the photo below, they have distinctive white markings down their back and on their face, leading them to also be known as the masked or white polecat.

The steppe polecat is native to countries in central Europe and regions of Asia, being found in Poland, Austria, Bulgaria, Ukraine, China and others. It lives in steppes, semi-deserts and cultivated fields. Its body is elongated, weighing between 2.9-4.4 lb (1.3-2 kg) and between about 11.8-21.7" (30-55 cm) in length. Despite sometimes looking white, variations in the coat pattern can be brown, dull yellow or blackish.

Although smaller in size, it is an animal similar in appearance to the Asian small-clawed otter (Amblonyx cinereus) when it has dry hair. This can be seen especially in the shape of the face and the light hair coloring on their fur. It is classified as ‘Least Concern’ in terms of conservation.

Discover some of the most unique steppe animals in our related guide.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii)

Ferret (Mustela furo)

Of all the domestic animals that most look like an otter, we can say the ferret (Mustela furo) most likely takes this title. Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, although their exact origin remains uncertain. It is most likely they were domesticated from the European polecat (Mustela putorius) and were first used for hunting. Their lithe bodies made it easy to enter rabbit warrens and other small spaces to flush out prey.

The ferret measures between about 13-18.1" (33-46 cm) and weighs from about 0.66-5.95 lb (300 g to 2.7 kg). Their fur can be of various colors, but some have cinnamon and chocolate tones, making these the animals that look most like otters. Although smaller than most otters, they have similar shaped bodies. Their heads and faces also bear a striking resemblance.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Ferret (Mustela furo)

Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi)

The Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi) is one of the animals endemic to Japan. It lives in many types of habitat, including grasslands, forests and close to human settlements. The shape of the body makes it an otter-like animal, seen in its is elongated, short legs and a head with a robust neck. Despite their similarity of appearance, they are smaller than otters. They measure between about 15.7-20.5" (40-52 cm) and weigh between about 0.33-0.99 lb (150-450 g). The fur is a golden tone, with a light belly. It is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in terms of conservation.

If you want to learn more about animals that resemble other animals, you can take a look at our article on the animals that look like foxes.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi)

Yellow-bellied weasel (Mustela kathiah)

This species of otter-like animal is also native to Asia, being found in countries such as Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Vietnam and others. Yellow-bellied weasel (Mustela kathiah) populations are mostly distributed throughout steppe ecosystems. The entire body on the dorsal level is dark brown, while the ventral part is lighter in color, hence their common name. You can see this stark contrast in the photo below.

Although we do not find such fur color contrasts in otters, the body shape is very similar. The average weight of the species is 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) and they are between about 9.8 to 10.6" (25 to 27 cm) in length. It is classified as ‘Least Concern’.

In addition to otters, ferrets and weasels are often confused with each other. Learn why with our article comparing the differences between weasels and ferrets.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Yellow-bellied weasel (Mustela kathiah)

European mink (Mustela lutreola)

Also known as the Russian mink, the European mink (Mustela lutreola) is another animal that looks like an otter. Native to both Europe and Asia, their populations have severely declined in the past couple of centuries. While they have some populations in France, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Spain, they are considered ‘Critically Endangered’ in these countries and have become completely extinct in others.

European mink live on the banks of rivers, streams and lakes in areas with dense vegetation. Their size is between 11.8-15" (30-38 cm), with weights between 0.88-1.76 lb (400-800 g). As with otters, the European mink is semi-aquatic, spending much of their time in the water. One of the reasons the European mink has such few wild specimens is the history of hunting for their pelts. Despite conservation efforts, numbers still dwindle.

Learn more about the most endangered animals in Europe with our related guide.

Animals That Look Like Otters - European mink (Mustela lutreola)

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Native to the United States, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was extirpated and reintroduced in Canada and Mexico. It is currently classified as ‘Endangered’. It lives in open areas such as grasslands and steppes. The weight ranges from about 1.32-2.65 lb (600 g-1.2 kg) and their length is from about 15-23.6" (38-60 cm), with females being generally smaller than males.

The fur on the body is usually light, with the exception of a darkened tone on the back and the legs. These black markings are what give them their name and can be seen in the photo below. Otters do not have these markings, but their body shape and head are similar. The black-footed ferret also has distinct curls on their ears which do not appear on any type of otter species.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

European polecat (Mustela putorius)

We have already mentioned the European polecat (Mustela putorius) when discussing the similarities between domestic ferrets and otters. It is native to the western Palearctic, the Balkans and the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Some countries where it develops are Andorra, Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. These otter-like animals live in forests, riverside areas, dunes, marshes, agricultural areas and other areas.

The mass ranges from 0.4-2.6 lb (200 g-1.2 kg), but there is strong sexual dimorphism between males and females. Males are significantly heavier. The coat is cream or brown with black dorsal fur, while on the face there is a mask marking made of light hairs. The body of this animal and the shape of the face also create a similarity to otters. It is classified as ‘Least Concern’.

Animals That Look Like Otters - European polecat (Mustela putorius)

American mink (Neogale vison)

One of the animals that perhaps most looks like an otter is the American mink (Neogale vison). This is a lithe mammal that also lives near aquatic areas such as streams, lakes, swamps and marshes. They need to be in places with abundant vegetation to hide for both their safety and to capture their prey. They can live in drier areas such as xeric lands, but only if there are sufficient food resources.

Their similarities to otters can be seen in their physicality and behaviors. Their coat is dark brown and varies in thickness as temperatures change. Especially when wet, they can closely resemble an otter in appearance. As with otters, they are also very territorial and will attack if they think they are being threatened. Their conservation status is ‘Least Concern’, despite a long history of being hunted for their pelts.

Learn more about otter behaviors with our article on whether otters are dangerous.

Animals That Look Like Otters - American mink (Neogale vison)

Tayra (Eira barbara)

The tayra (Eira barbara) or tolomuco is an animal that has a population distribution extending from Mexico to Argentina, living in various types of forests, plantations and areas near human settlements. Although the shape of the face differs somewhat from that of otters, their size is similar. They measure between 23.6-27.5" (60-70 cm) in length, but they have an additional 1.1-2.4" of fur that covers their body. It is classified as ‘Least Concern’.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Tayra (Eira barbara)

Fisher (Pekania pennanti)

Although not a type of feline, the fisher (Pekania pennanti) is sometimes known as the fisher cat. This is similar to other mustelids known as polecats. They are native to Canada and the United States, inhabiting the boreal forests of the region (the photo below shows a fisher in a tree).

Fishers have a thin body with short legs, measuring about 29.5-47.2" (75-120 cm), with a weight between about 4.4-13.2 lb (2-6 kg). As with many of the animals that look like otters, males are generally larger than females. Their fur is abundant, but their deep brown color can make them stand out in their habitat.

As you can see, the animals that most look like otters tend to be other members of the family Mustelidae. Learn more about the different types of mustelids with our related guide.

Animals That Look Like Otters - Fisher (Pekania pennanti)

If you want to read similar articles to Animals That Look Like Otters, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Animal Diversity Web. (2020). Retrieved from: https://animaldiversity.org/
  • IUCN. (2024). The IUCN Red List of Threate7ned Species. Version 2023-1. Retrieved from: https://www.iucnredlist.org
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Animals That Look Like Otters