Scientists have discovered an extinct species of large otters in the Yunnan Province, Southwestern China. The species has been named Siamogale melilutra, which has been described in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.
Siamogale melilutra grew up to be as large as a wolf. It weighed up to 49 kilograms or 110lbs, which is nearly two times heavier than the largest living otters. Among the discoveries unearthed included the animals’ mandible, compete cranium, dentition and other bones. Analysis reveal that this species belongs to an ancient lineage of extinct otters that goes 18 million years back.
“While the cranium is incredibly complete, it was flattened during the fossilization process. The bones were so delicate that we could not physically restore the cranium. Instead, we CT-scanned the specimen and virtually reconstructed it in a computer,” said researcher Denise Su, the Curator & Head of Paleobotany and Paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, according to Science Daily.
The researchers reveal that this otter had a large and powerful jaw. It had big bunodont cheek teeth. These features allowed the otter to eat huge freshwater mollusks as well as shellfish, which is plentiful in Shuitangba.
“Multiple otter lineages have low-crowned, bunodont teeth, leading us to ask the question if this was inherited from a common ancestor or if this was convergent evolution based on common dietary behaviors across different species,” pointed out the study’s lead author, Xiaoming Wang, Curator and Head of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. “Our phylogenetic analysis suggests that bunodont dentition independently appeared at least three times over the evolutionary history of otters.”
The research teams are trying to find out more about this large extinct otter. They also aim to find out why Siamogale melilutra grew up to be so large and how it opened its food. They also want to find out how this extinct animal moved on land and in water.