Scientists Discover Ancient Wolf-Sized Otter Species In China

Posted: Jan 24 2017, 3:18am CST | by , Updated: Jan 25 2017, 12:34am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Scientists Discover 6 Million Years Old Wolf-Sized Otter Species in China
This is an artist's reconstruction of two Siamogale melilutra individuals, one feeding on a fresh water clam. Credit: Art by Maurcio Antón
  • Scientists discover the remains of one of the largest otter species ever found

Scientists have managed to discover the remains of 6 million years old otter that was about the size of a wolf.

In Yunnan Province of China, the remains of a giant otter that was extant 6.24 million years ago were found. This is the best research regarding this rare fossil of an extinct otter that was one of the largest otter species ever found.

Termed the Siamogale melilutra, this extinct otter was identified via its teeth. The teeth were found in Thailand. Among the parts that were found may be included: the skull bones, jaw bone, teeth and a few remnants of skeletal tissue. This provided useful information regarding the taxonomy, evolutionary past and working morphology of the novel species.

Although the skull bones are for all purposes intact, they were crushed beyond recognition during the fossilization process. Since the cranium could not be totally put back together again, the remains were CT-scanned and simulated back into their original form using a computer.

This yielded a mixed bag of otter and badger-like features. These go on to form the portmanteau classification name of this extinct species. This curious creature was about the size of a wolf and had a weight that amounted to 110 pounds.

This makes it more than double the size of ordinary modern-day otters. Its jaw bone was very large and had the quality of being capable of crunching anything that came between it with crushing force.

It also had round-cusped cheek teeth. These were all the better to eat shellfish and mollusks. These two sources of prey for this extinct otter were found in large quantities in the region way back then.

Siamogale melilutra had a large, powerful jaw with the enlarged, bunodont (rounded-cusped) teeth typical of many otter lineages. This raises the question of whether these bunodont teeth were inherited by all otters from a common ancestor, or evolved independently in different otter lineages over time because of the evolution of similar adaptations to thrive in similar environments. Credit: Image courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The region in which this otter lived was full of swamps and had shallow waters. It was a place where dense greenery sprouted from every corner. Many of the otters that have passed in the transition from prehistory to history have such teeth.

Whether this was due to evolutionary convergence or a particular type of diet remains a mystery. This sort of feature of dentition probably emerged three times among the lineage of otters in the past.

Previously there had been little if any information regarding this extinct otter. Yet now with the facts being laid out in the open, the research efforts are proceeding apace to get to the bottom of the enigma regarding this oldest of ancestors of modern-day otters.

Dr. Xiaoming Wang, Curator and Head of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Dr. Denise Su, Curator & Head of Paleobotany and Paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have published the paper on the matter with colleagues in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology recently.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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