cover image Otter Country: An Unexpected Adventure in the Natural World

Otter Country: An Unexpected Adventure in the Natural World

Miriam Darlington. Tin House, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-959030-34-8

Darlington (The Wise Hours) burnishes her reputation as a gifted nature writer with this vivid examination of the behavior, biology, and evolution of otters. She notes that the aquatic animals were “one of the earliest mammalian carnivores,” appearing 30 million years ago as members of the mustelid family, which includes weasels and badgers. Over time, members of the mustelid family diversified to pursue different kinds of prey (pine martens evolved to hunt rodents in trees while otters developed to prowl waterways). Pushing back against otters’ reputation for being “cuddly and playful,” Darlington explains that males bite females so hard during copulation they leave permanent scars and often kidnap pups “from their mothers and expect her to hand over her catch of shellfish before the stolen pup is returned.” Though Darlington’s travels around Britain looking for otters in the wild proved unsuccessful, the sparkling prose ensures her account of the search never flags: “Without the dazzle of a torch, the moon is all quivering reflections. I stare over a bridge at the flicker beneath.” Darlington also provides disquieting discussions of how European settlers in America’s Pacific Northwest nearly hunted otters to extinction, and how oil spills and overfishing continue to threaten the animals’ ability to survive in the wild. The result is an entrancing look at a complex animal. Agent: Clare Conville, C&W Agency. (Feb.)