Giant Otter With Badger-Like Teeth Found in China

Posted January 25, 2017

With "wolf-like" proportions, and weighing roughly 100 Ibs, the creature - whose skull was excavated in Yunnan province - would have been twice the size of today's otters. Around 6.2 million years ago a big and strong otter species roamed around China's swamps.

The new species was described for the first time this week in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology, based on remains uncovered at Shuitangba, a fossil-rich mine in northern China.

"While Siamogale melilutra's cranium is incredibly complete, it was flattened during the fossilization process".

The well-preserved fossil has a almost complete cranium and mandible and a partial skeleton.

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Su, who is the head of paleobotany & paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said that the newly-discovered species was 2-3 times larger than any modern otter species.

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.

"I think it used its powerful jaws to crush hard clams for food, somewhat like modern sea otters, although the latter use stone tools to smash shells", said Xiaoming Wang, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Traits shared with the modern day badger were also discovered, accounting for the species's name: "Melilutra" refers to meles, which is Latin for badger.

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To deal with the fact that the specimen was so fragile, the scientists made CT scans to digitally reconstruct the cranium of this enormous otter, permitting them to rotate it and study it virtually.

The fossils also revealed that the otters had a powerful jaw with large cheeks, believed to have helped it eat large shellfish and freshwater mollusks, which were found abundantly at Shuitangba. The research team is still figuring out how these animals got around on land and in the water, and, presumably, if they terrorized their fellow mammals like otters reportedly do today.

The team will now conduct more analyses to determine why this species was so large and how its size affected its movements and living conditions. But it's likely these otters ate small creatures like mollusks, which would not explain why they had to be so large.

Siamogale melilutra may not be the largest otter ever, with fossils of another one that may be the biggest previously found in Africa.

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