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Otter reaching into a hole with its right paw

What are the phylogenetic origins of handedness? Limb-use preferences are widespread in different mammalian species and hence, may represent a common trait, which is based on a shared phylogenetic history. Unravelling the evolutionary origin however, requires the analysis of a larger number of species within an ecologically relevant setting. A team of the biopsychology from Bochum therefore investigated in how far observations in a zoo enable the collection of reliable data sets by quantifying paw use in Asian small-clawed otters. This study provides first evidences for individual paw preferences in otters, which were in line with previously reported forelimb use pattern in other carnivoran species. These data support that observations in a zoological setting are useful to explore pawedness and may facilitate future studies investigating paw preferences under experimentally controlled conditions. Our study provides first evidences for pawedness in otters when observing spontaneous naturalistic behaviour in a zoological setting. Paw use preferences differed individually and between different motor acts but for “reaching into a hole”, a population-level right paw preference was detected. Although our data set has to be evaluated cautiously, it indicates that an observational study in a zoo enables collecting rich and reliable data about lateralized limb use, which helps to understand the evolutionary pattern of handedness.

Manns M, Ströckens F, Stavenhagen P, Ocklenburg S. Paw preferences in the Asian small-clawed otter – using an inexpensive, video-based protocol to study laterality of rare species in the zoo. Laterality 2018 Mar 26:1-16. doi: 10.1080/1357650X.2018.1457047