Millions of years ago, a wolf-sized otter swam around ancient swampy China, scientists have discovered. Reports are showing that this otter species was really big weighing at 110 lbs (50 kg) resembling a wolf in size, and they were really fearsome having big heads and powerful jaws. According to the best guesstimates of the researchers, the animal lived around 6.6 million years ago.
U.S. paleontologists discovered the biggest otter that ever lived while excavating an ancient lake bed in Shuitangba, in the Yunnan Province in Southwestern China.
A almost complete cranium of a young adult Siamogale melilutra: right lateral and dorsal views.
By using a computed tomography (CT) scanner, study co-author Stuart White, a professor emeritus of maxillofacial radiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, was able to digitally restore the skull's 3D shape.
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The research team found a well-preserved cranium of this new species in an open lignite mine in 2010. The prehistoric otter had a large and extremely powerful jaw. Dubbed "Siamogale melilutra", the evidence of a distinctly different otter species draws new connections between the animals and badgers. "Instead, we CT-scanned the specimen and virtually reconstructed it in a computer", explained Dr. Su. They recently published their findings in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. "And most importantly, what types of advantages did its size give?"
Researchers state that the Siamogale melilutra was not the only otter to have rounded teeth, which is why scientists questioned if the rounded teeth were inherited from its ancient ancestor.
Su and Wang, through their analysis, found that bunodont teeth independently appeared at least three times over the evolutionary history of otters, suggesting convergent evolution to be the cause.
"A lot of times in modern carnivores, the large size is partly due to subduing prey, so their prey is bigger and the carnivores also get bigger", Dr. Su told NPR.
Researchers said it was unclear why this species of otter was so big, as its prey would most likely have been mollusks, Wang told Live Science.