Committee Chair

Foerder, Preston

Committee Member

Warren, Amye; Shelton, Jill


Dept. of Psychology


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Sea otters are well known tool users, yet the cognitive capacities of other otter species have been sparsely studied. Precedent exists for non-tool using species closely related to native tool users to display comparable abilities under experimental conditions. The social intelligence hypothesis predicts complex cognitive capacities in socially complex species. Using the Aesop’s Fable paradigm – wherein subjects drop stones into a cylinder half-filled with water to acquire floating out-of-reach food items – I assessed North American river otters’, Asian small-clawed otters, and giant river otters abilities to solve a novel tool-mediated problem. Sticks and water were presented with the stones, providing opportunities for tool use. No otters successfully completed the task. Interaction with the apparatus decreased significantly across sessions, possibly contributing to the otters not solving the task. A better understanding of the similarities and differences in the cognitive abilities of these species can inform future conservation efforts.


Most importantly, I would like to acknowledge my thesis committee members Dr.s Preston Foerder, Amye Warren, and Jill Shelton for their advice, comments, and patience throughout this process. Their help was invaluable on this project and what I learned from them will continue to enlighten my future work. I also could not have completed this project without the help and support of the otter staffs at the Birmingham Zoo and Zoo Atlanta. First and foremost, they were kind enough to allow me access to the otters under their care, without which this study could not have happened. Their knowledge of and experience with otters was also instrumental in setting up the experimental procedure, and their comments concerning the individual otters’ idiosyncrasies were extremely helpful in running the experiment.


M. S.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science.




North American river otter; Oriental small-clawed otter; Otters


Tool Use; Problem Solving; North American River Otter; Asian Small-Clawed Otter; Giant River Otter; Aesop's Fable Task



Document Type

Masters theses


viii, 35 leaves





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