Scientists have discovered a wolf-sized otter that was likely a formidable relative of Tarka the otter, named the Siamogale melilutra. Scientists described in the Nature Journal, Scientific Reports, that the ancient otter was the size of a wolf, weighed around 110 pounds and was a predator. The article also unveils that this predator had a surprisingly powerful bite. The strong and deadly bite allowed this wolf-sized otter to crush mollusk shells and even the bones of birds and small mammals.
Scientists explained that this wolf-sized otter could be a dominant predator and that it lived in Shuitangba, in Southern China. Scientists conducted a series of scans that unveiled a combination of otter-like and badger-like cranial, and also the dental feature. This led the scientists to name this species “melilutra.” The word is originally derived from the Latin meles, which means badger, and lutra which means otter.
“We started our study with the idea that this otter was just a larger version of a sea otter or an African clawless otter in terms of chewing ability, that it would just be able to eat much larger things,” Dr. Jack Tseng of the University of Buffalo, who led the research, told UBNow. “We don’t know for sure, but we think that this otter was more of a top predator than living species of otters are. Our findings imply that Siamogale could crush much harder and larger prey than any living otter can.”
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The scientists performed a computed tomography (CT), which scanned the otter’s skill. They also scanned skulls of ten of its more modern relatives to see the similarities. After they finished scanning, they created 3D virtual computer models, which showed a relationship between the stiffness of the jaw and the animal’s size.
Scientists were curious about the ancient otter’s biting force and decided to test it. It surprised them that this animal had stronger jawbones than expected. Further research resulted in the discovery that this wolf-sized otter had six times sturdier jaws than they had expected. This structure and stiffness could mean that S. melilutra had a firm bite, even for its size.
The strength of the jaw and S. melilutra’s size could make it a skilled hunter. Co-author of the article, Dr. Denise Su, from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, U.S., explained the habitat of the wolf-sized otter.
“At the time that the otter lived, the area where its remains were found included a swamp or a shallow lake surrounded by evergreen forest or dense woodland,” she explained. “There was a diverse aquatic fauna at Shuitangba, including fish, crab, mollusks, turtles and frogs, as well as many different species of water birds, all of which could have been potential prey for S. melilutra.”
Previous examples of the wolf-sized otter were isolated teeth that were recovered from Thailand. Later paleontologists found more remains at Shuitangba. The study has referred to scans to unveil the otter’s entire skull, mandible, dentition, and other skeletal elements to provide more information about the otter.
You can check out the full information of the study that was published in the Nature Journal in their Scientific Reports.