Otter spraint analysis

Moors for the Future have a new Community Science Project, looking for signs of mammals in the uplands, the Tails of the Uplands Survey. (Follow the link for details of how to get involved and training courses available.)

A key target species is the otter, one of our most attractive and endearing mammals, which nearly disappeared from England in the 1960s and 1970s, but which is now starting to recover across much of the animal's former range.

Evidence for otter presence is indicated by a number of signs, one of which is their droppings, known as spraint. As well as indicating presence, analysis of spraint can help us find out what the otters are eating. Traditionally this was done by examining spraint under a low power microscope, and identifying bones (and other undigested material, such as fur and feathers). However, nowadays, more sophisticated methods are available using DNA analysis. However, it is interesting to compare results of both techniques, and I have been examining samples from which DNA has been extracted and sequenced to identify prey items. The genetic analyses were performed at the Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the University of Sheffield as part of the Otterly Amazing project run by the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

Below are some initial results.

Contents of sample 137 (spraint collected on the River Don)

Contents of sample 119 (spraint collected on the River Don)

Contents of sample 45 (otter spraint was kindly supplied by the Chestnut Centre - Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park)

Contents of sample L1

Contents of sample 3

Four small spherical balls were found in sample 3

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