Why do otters juggle stones?

Science writer Stuart Blackman answers your wild question.

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Why do otters juggle stones?

A sea otter frolicking in kelp © Ricardo Dearatanha / Los Angeles Times / Getty

 

Sea otters have many ways of tugging on our heartstrings. And going by a plethora of YouTube videos, we can now add juggling stones to the list. To be fair, it’s more keepy-uppy than juggling, albeit keepy-uppy with two or three stones at a time. 

The otters lie on their backs and pat the stones into the air, catching them and rolling them skilfully around their chests and necks. And very impressive it is, too – they can even do it with their eyes closed. The behaviour is likely to be linked to the animals’ use of rocks to detach prey from the seabed and break it open.

Otters form attachments to certain stones – keeping them in an armpit when not in use – and have been known to retain their favourite ones throughout their lives. Recreational juggling may be a playful way of learning how best to manipulate these tools. 

 

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