Life Science Scientists tackle mystery of why otters in captivity juggle with rocks
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Scientists tackle mystery of why otters in captivity juggle with rocks

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From sea otters holding hands while they sleep so they don’t float away from each other, to baby otters learning to swim, there’s no question that these water-loving critters are utterly adorable.

One question that has puzzled scientists, though, is why captive otters ‘juggle’ rocks.

 

Captive otters in zoos can often be seen entertaining onlookers by ‘juggling’ small stones from paw to paw.

So a team of researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK decided to investigate the phenomenon.

They found that young otters “rock-juggled” more than adults.

“This suggests juggling juveniles may practise the extractive food-handling skills required to eat shellfish and molluscs,” the researchers said.

They also tested whether rock-juggling otters were skilled in other areas, but the cute mammals came up short.

“Frequent jugglers were no better at solving the food puzzles we presented, perhaps indicating that juggling may not hone otters’ foraging skills,” the researchers said.

Instead, otters were found to juggle more when hungry and in anticipation of zoo feeding times.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that further study is required to identify whether rock juggling is “beneficial or a stereotype specific to captivity requires further research”.