Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Spot-necked Otter (Hydrictis maculicollis) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History & Nomenclature

Common Name

  • Otter is derived from Old English and Indo European root words that also gave rise to English word for water.
  • Synonyms (English)
    • Spot-necked otter
    • Spotted-necked otter
    • Speckle-throated otter

Scientific name (Borror 1960)

  • Hydro is the Ancient Greek word for water
  • maculicollis comes from the Latin macula that means "spotted" and collis meaning "neck"

Local names: Fisi maji or "water hyaena" in Swahili; inTini for the Zulu. (Larivière 2002).

Classification of mustelids

Based on recent genetic studies:

  • Wozencraft (2005) and ITIS (2010) recognize only two subfamilies of mustelids, one with otters, the second with all other mustelids. 
  • Fulton & Strobeck (2006), Sato et al (2004) and Koepfi et al (2008) all propose eight subfamilies of mustelids, with otters as one subfamily.

Spot-necked otters often assigned to genus Lutra, but Wozencraft (2005), Kopfi & Wayne (1998), and Koepfi et al (2008) prefer to place them in the genus Hydrictis.

Evolutionary History

Prehistoric otters

  • Earliest fossils of the mustelid family found in Eurasia, dating to around 26 million years ago. (Late Oligocene). (Koepfli et al 2008)
  • Lutrine otters diverged from other mustelids about 20-25 million years ago. (Koepfli and Wayne 1998)
  • Mionictis, an early otter genus, lived in North America around 15-20 million years ago. (Baskin 1998) (Koepfli and Wayne 1998)
  • New World river otters belong to a separate genus, Lontra; they descend from otters that migrated across the Bering Strait during Late Miocene times, 11.5 to 5.3 million years ago (Middle Miocene). (Koepfli et al 2008)
  • Lutra affins from Europe dates to around 5 million years ago (Early Pliocene). (Koepfli et al 2008)
  • Otters in South America descend from immigrants from North America that crossed the Isthmus of Panama when it connected North and South America sometime shortly before 3.0-2.5 million years ago. (Koepfi et al 2008)
  • Spot-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicolis) originally colonized Africa from Eurasia, but its exact relationship to other Lutra species is still somewhat unclear. (Koepfli & Wayne 1998) (Kruuk 2006)

Evolutionary relationships among modern otters

  • Modern otters divide into three primary clades according to mitochondrial genetic studies: (Koepfli and Wayne 1998)
    • North American river, neotropical, and marine otters
    • Sea, Eurasian, spot-necked, Cape clawless, and small-clawed otters
    • Giant otters


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae (martens)

Subfamily: Mustelinae (weasels, martens, minks,badgers, honey badger)

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Hydrictis

Species: Hydrictis maculicollis (spot-necked otter)

Describer (Date): Lichenstein (1835)

Sea Otter

picture of a spot-necked otter

Modern otters divide into three primary clades. The Spot-Necked Otter falls with the Sea Otter.

Image credit: © Biodiversity Heritage Library Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Borror (1960)
Fulton & Strobeck (2006)
ITIS (2010)
Koepfli et al (2008)
Koepfli & Wayne (1998)
Kruuk (2006)
Larivière (2002)
Sato et al (2004)
Simpson (1945)
Wozencraft (2005)

SDZG Library Links