Otters the size of lions prowled around three million years ago

Paleontologists have identified a new species of extinct otter in Ethiopia. She weighed about two hundred pounds. It is therefore the largest otter ever described. The animal would have rubbed shoulders with (and perhaps competed for food) with australopithecines 3.5 to 2.5 million years ago. Details of the study are published in the French journal Palevol Reports.

Otters as big as lions

There are several otter jigs today. Those with small claws, found in Asia, weigh from 1.8 to 6 kg, while the South American giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) can exceed 30 kg for 1.8 m in length. The North Pacific Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) can easily reach 45 kg for 1.5 m in length. The latter are therefore smaller, but heavier than their South American cousins.

Several larger otters, on the other hand, are known to have populated Eurasia and Africa around six to two million years ago. A few years ago, for example, a team announced the discovery of extinct otters the size of wolves. The latter populated the swamp forests of southwestern China six million years ago. Let us also mention the extinct genus Enhydriodon which is considered the largest mustelid described to date with its two hundred kilos emitted. However, another species could steal the show.

The described species was named Enhydriodon omoensis, from the Lower Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia, where it was discovered. The animal would have lived about 3.5 to 2.5 million years old and would have in fact co-existed with a group of extinct human relatives known as Australopithecines.

Based on analysis of his teeth and femurs, E. omoensis probably weighed more than two hundred kilos. The new study compares the size of these gigantic otters to modern lions (Panthera leo) which can measure up to three meters in length and weight from 150 to 250 kg.

Enhydriodon omoensis compared to three current species, a modern human and an Australopithecus. Credits: Sabine Riffaut, Camille Grohé / Palevoprim / CNRS – University of Poitiers

A primarily terrestrial animal

The researchers also measured the isotope ratios (the variations of an element with a different number of neutrons) of stable oxygen and carbon in the enamel of several teeth. These values ​​can indeed tell us how dependent this species was on water.

According to the analyses, it seems that this otter was not semi-aquatic, like all modern otters. The researchers found that it shared the same diet that animals ate a wide variety of land plants.

Traditionally, otters of the genus Enhydriodon were bred as semi-aquatic and fed on molluscs, turtles, crocodiles and other catfish taken from African rivers. This new discovery therefore challenges this idea.

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