Giant Prehistoric Otter Species Discovered In China

Posted: Jan 24 2017, 6:06am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Giant prehistoric otter species discovered in China

These ancient giant otters were the size of wolves

If you have ever watched the otters at your local zoo as they frolic in their water and sleep a lot each day, you know they are cute little animals. Scientists have now discovered that there was a giant species of otter that lived in the area that is now China about 6 million years ago. These giant otters weighed in at 100 pounds.

The species was discovered when scientists found a well-preserved cranium of one of the giant otters in an open lignite mine back in 2010. The creature was about the size of a wolf making it as much as three times larger than current otters. Scientists say that the fossilized cranium was almost complete, but it had been smashed down to about an inch and a half thick.

"The bones are pretty fragile, so we couldn't really reconstruct it physically," Denise Su, head of paleobotany and paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said. "So what we did is we took CT scans of the cranium, and then we digitally reconstructed it."

The discovery also helped to answer some questions about teeth in modern otters called bunodont teeth. Scientists have wondered if this sort of tooth evolved separately in different otter species or if they received these teeth from a common otter relative in the past. The scientists can now say that this type of teeth arose four times in different otter species over the millennia. As to why the ancient otters were so large, scientists aren't sure.

"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," Su explains. The otters ate smaller mollusks so the team isn't sure why they were so large.

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