Otters are pretty darn cute.
There are actually 13 species of aquatic otters, all of which are charismatic and adorable in their own unique way.
From the giant river otter...
To the oriental small-clawed otter...
And even the lutra otter.
But, no other otter elicits as many oooooo's and awwwww's than the delightful sea otter.
I mean, just look at that face!
After reading a new paper from Texas A&M zoologists about the differences in how otters feed, one science writer concluded that the sea otter's charming good looks might just come from its ferocious bite used to feast on hard mollusks and echinoderms.
The authors of the paper discovered two major ways that otters feed, grouping them as hand-oriented or mouth-oriented otters. Mouth-oriented otters, like several river otter species, primarily catch fish and other prey with their jaws first, while hand-oriented otters, like the sea otter, grab hardened prey with their dexterous hands before crushing them with expanded cheek teeth.
Both feeding techniques result in differences in skull shape, and may give the sea otter an edge over its relatives in the race for cutest mug.
The river otters, and others that feed on fish, tend to have long, narrow skulls that are more attuned to delivering faster bites. On the other hand, otters that must break through hard shells to eat have wider, shorter skulls and jaws better capable of a strong bite. Sea otters in particular have wide, rounded cheek teeth to crush prey, and to be picture-perfect, of course.
The authors noted that, just like people, not all sea otters are alike, and varying diets in otter population clusters will result in slightly different skull shapes. Nonetheless, the sea otter's tastes in food are definitely working for them, and for us!
Check our article: Sea otters holding hands GIFs
Work it, sea otter.