An international group of scientists found on the territory of the Chinese province of Yunnan fossil skull of the animal.
The analysis showed that it belongs to mind a previously unknown giant otters.
Scientists have discovered that this prehistoric creature the size of a wolf was “two to three times more than any modern species of otter”, as said the head of the branches of paleobotany and paleoecology Cleveland Museum of natural history Dennis su.
Researchers estimate, the length of the animal was up to two meters and it weighed about 50 kg.
The exact length is difficult to determine the tail of the animal were not preserved. For comparison, the largest otter in our days is the South American giant otter, its weight comes to 32 kg.
The fossil skull was almost intact, but in the process of fossilization were flattened and fragmented more than 200 fragments.
“Bones are pretty fragile, so we are unable to restore it physically, says su. So we did a CT scan and reconstructed it digitally”.
The length of the skull was 21, see Particularly interesting it was the fact that his teeth were characteristic rather for the badger. Therefore, the new species was named Siamogale melilutra, from the Latin meles (badger) and lutra (otter).
Also, thanks to the preservation of the skull, scientists were able to establish how to develop otters, in particular their teeth. The molars of the giant otters had rounded hilly region as the modern species. Scientists wondered whether inherited various species of otters, these teeth from a common ancestry or they evolved independently from each other, simply because different types of otters existed in similar conditions and ate the same food — a process called convergent evolution.
However, when comparing found the remains of the skulls of other species of otters, both living and fossils, the researchers came to the conclusion that, as su says, “these teeth actually occurred at least four times during the existence of the otters”.
This discovery suggests that they originated rather in the course of convergent evolution than inherited from a common ancestor.
The question remains, why the animal was so huge and as it was moving in the water and on land.
“Size of many modern carnivores depends on the size of production: production grows, so does the predator,” explains su. But scientists believe that a fossil otter ate small creatures like clams. So the question of the dimensions remains open.
“I think they used their powerful jaws to crush the shells of mollusks, similar to some modern species of otters are used for the same purposes, suggests Xiaoming Wang, the head of the Department of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles Museum of natural history.
— If Siamogale melilutra was not smart enough to think of another way, perhaps they could only develop a more powerful jaw, increasing the size of the body.”
Previously, similar teeth have been found in Thailand. Then the scientists came to the conclusion that they belong to an animal belonging to a little-known group of otters, which previously seceded from the main branch and formed their own. Now as proof of this theory managed to get a skull.
Yunnan is rich in fossil remains — in the province have been found the fossil remains of elephants, rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, crocodiles, beavers, and waterfowl, including ducks, swans and cranes. There, in 1965, was discovered two front teeth of ancient man, later named “yanikoski man.” This is the ancient human remains discovered in China, they range in age from 780 thousand to 1.1 million years. There have been found, and stone tools.
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