5. Furry Den Residents
The strictly protected otter is a permanent occupant of the Lake Péteri area. The otter’s den is built in a natural crevice, or in a hole it digs itself between tree roots. The den exit is always located near the shore or under water. Of course if a badger or fox is obliging enough to scrape out a nook for it, an otter will gratefully occupy the space.
The most common predators in the area are foxes and badgers. These animals dig out dens and tunnel systems underground that serve as both shelters and domiciles. A multi-level badger den typically resembles a labyrinth with multiple exits. Foxes may also share a larger badger den, making good use of its multiple exits. In fact, evidence of several species inhabiting the same underground dens can be found along the banks of the Dong-éri Main Canal. It is possible for badgers and foxes to inhabit the upper levels, while an otter lives at the lowest level with easy access to the water. Co-existence in one den may last for decades. It is now more and more common to find golden jackals (Canis aureus), otherwise known as reed wolves, in these common dens around Lake Péteri.
At one time, otters (Lutra lutra) were widespread all across Europe. However, these days their habitat and numbers have been drastically diminished. The greater numbers of otter in Hungary is not a sign that their situation is much rosier here, but rather that their fate is significantly worse in other countries. In our country, otters average 1 meter in length, and reach a shoulder height of 25-30 cm. They average 6-16 kg, but specimens have been known to weigh as much as 23 kg. With their slim, elongated yet powerful build they resemble weasel-like predators. They have rounded heads and their ears, which barely emerge from their coat, can be closed when they submerge. Their claws are webbed, and their short-haired fur is so dense that water does not penetrate it. An otter’s body is typically dark brown on top and lighter underneath, while its chin and upper jaw is characterised by lighter coloured spots. Otters are excellent swimmers. Their primary prey is small to medium-size fish, but lacking that, they will also hunt frogs or small waterfowl and their eggs when they emerge at night. Litters of 2-3 cubs are born in May and open their eyes after ten days. They are extremely intelligent, agile animals.