Ancient, wolf-sized otter had strong jaws, study reports

Researchers have found evidence that the prehistoric otter Siamogale melilutra had a bite force similar to a bear's.
By Steve Colyer | Nov 13, 2017
A giant otter that roamed the wilds of southwestern China some six million years ago had an incredibly strong bite that may have made it one of the top predators of its time, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo first found fossils from the species -- known as Siamogale melilutra -- at a site known known as Shuitangba. Analysis showed the ancient mammal weighed about 110 pounds and could grow to the size of a wolf. In addition, it also had the chewing ability of a bear, which would have allowed it to eat a wide range of prey.

In the study, the team analyzed multiple otter jaw models from both living and extinct species. Such study revealed that, not only could the species crush the shells of big mollusks, but it may have been able to bite through the bones of birds and rodents as well.

"We conducted a series of engineering simulations on the jaw models of fossil otters as well as ten living otter species and what we found was that the fossil otter had a jaw that was six times as strong as expected, based on what we see in living species," lead author Jack Tseng, a researcher at the University at Buffalo, toldBBC News.

Despite the new information, it is hard to learn a lot about the extinct mammal because the otter's fossil record is largely incomplete. The only thing researchers have to go on are a few skull fragments pulled from what used to be a swamp or shallow lake surrounded by dense woodland.

While researchers do not know, they assume the ancient mammal had a varied diet. That is because carnivores typically evolve powerful jaws for the purpose of cracking through bone, which could then have allowed the otter to eat many different animals.

"The abundance of aquatic and near-water environments in that region may have allowed aquatic carnivorans such as Siamogaleto to become the dominant predators of their ecological communities," the authors wrote in the study, according to Gizmodo Australia


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