A six million year old fossil belonging to a previously unknown giant otter species has been discovered and digitally reconstructed by US paleontologists working in China.
The huge otter would have weighed about 110 pounds, and lived about 6.24 million years ago, according to a new report. The fossilized remains of this now-extinct ancient otter— one of the largest otters known— were discovered in a mine in China’s Yunnan Province, and part of what makes it remarkable is that the find included a nearly-complete cranium.
“One of the really unique things about this discovery is that it’s a pretty complete cranium,” Denise Su, coauthor on a new study about the huge otter and the head of paleobotany and paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said in a video describing the otter fossils.
“And complete crania are really rare in the fossil record,” she continued. “So we were incredibly lucky to be able to find this— it was completely flattened due to distortions of the fossilization process.”
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 otter had a big, strong jaw, and may have eaten shellfish and mollusks in its ancient, watery environment, according to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“From the vegetation and other animal groups found at Shuitangba, we know that it was a swampy, shallow lake with quite dense vegetation,” Su said in a statement, referring to the location of the find in Yunnan Province.
Before this discovery, scientists only had ancient teeth found in Thailand that represented this extinct otter lineage, and the new find will help them learn more about otter evolution.
The new otter species is called Siamogale melilutra, and the researchers who discovered it have published their findings in The Journal of Systematic Paleontology.