Why sea otters always hold their paws up

July 10, 2014, 1 p.m.
sea otter with paws up

Unintentional cuteness explained

Sea otters have a way of being flat-out adorable without meaning to be. One such behavior is the way they float on their backs when resting, and hold their front paws up to their faces. While it may look like a pose straight out of a cartoon, there is actually a survival reason for it.

Sea otters have as many as 1 million hairs per square inch on their bodies. It is the densest fur of any mammal in the world. For comparison, a human only has about 100,000 hairs on his or her entire head! A sea otter's thick coat does a phenomenal job of keeping water away from the skin so the animal can stay warm even in the chilly waters of Alaska. However, not all parts of a sea otter's body has such dense fur, such as the nearly fur-free paws. In order to conserve heat, sea otters keep as much of their body as dry as they can, and this includes keeping their sensitive paws up out of the water as much as possible. Even when a sea otter resting at the surface turns over onto its belly, it will hold those front paws up to keep them out of the chilly water.

So those thoughtful little resting positions are really just a sea otter keeping warm. Not that knowing this makes them any less adorable.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

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