A group of researchers has recently discovered a new race of otters that were the size of a wolf. The information was published in the Journal Systematic Paleontology, based on a ground investigation in a fossil-rich area located in the north of China.

The scientific name of the wolf-sized otter is Siamogale melilutra, and according to the first findings, it was a huge animal that weighed more than 110 pounds, about the weight of a wolf. It had a powerful jaw and rounded cheeks that allowed it to wrench shellfish and mollusks.

The scientific name of the wolf-sized otter is Siamogale melilutra. Image credit: Cleveland Museum of Natural History / The Washington Post
The scientific name of the wolf-sized otter is Siamogale melilutra. Image credit: Cleveland Museum of Natural History / The Washington Post

The investigation showed that this new race lived about 6.24 million years ago, about 6 million years before the human species started to evolve. This fact is both exciting and positive since the otters could have easily confronted human beings and defeated them.

However, this discovery is not the first one concerning S. melilutra fossils. This creature was known by some teeth isolated samples found in Thailand. Even when the teeth were enough to presume the impressiveness of this creature, it was not sufficient evidence to officially identify it as a new species.

Researcher’s latest discovery included the presence of teeth, limb bones, and even a complete cranium, which is pretty rare when it comes to paleontologic investigations.

Denise Su, the curator of paleobotany and paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and co-author of the study said that they were incredibly lucky to find that body of fossil evidence. The remains were found on Shuitangba, a fossil-rich mine in China.

These rare specimens are quite different to current otters

Dr. Su stated that the investigation team was already analyzing the fossils to know the species’ particular characteristics, evolution, and taxonomy. The researchers are also wondering the reasons that could explain the otter’s size and how did that size affect the animal’s movement through land or water, as well if that characteristic gave an advantage to the race.

“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. If Siamogale melilutra was not smart enough to figure out tools, perhaps the only option left was to develop more powerful jaws by increasing body size,” Xiaoming Wang, the head of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told Reuters.

The scientific community had started their own hypothesis regarding this particular otter evolution process in comparison to other lineages. Where characteristics like the rounded-cusped teeth an inheritance of an ancestor or product of its evolution?

Both Dr. Wang and Dr. Su say that this particular characteristic of this new otter race is a product of what is called “convergent evolution.” This means that each otter lineage developed differently through history to adapt themselves to each particular zone.

According to Dr. Su, this new finding shows the world about the immense diversity that was present in the prehistoric world, as well as it raises a lot of questions about the scientific explanation regarding the evolution that each otter lineage had through history.

Source: The Washington Post