Researchers have uncovered the remains of a giant otter in China that when alive would have been comparable to the size of a wolf. The fossils belong to a new species of ancient otter, known as Siamogale melilutra, that lived in freshwater lakes around 6 million years ago.
(...) Currently, the largest living otter species – the giant otters of the Amazon River – reach up to around 1.8 meters (6 feet) and weigh in at roughly 32 kilograms (70 pounds), but this ancient otter from China would have come in at almost twice its size. The researchers estimate that S. melilutra would have weighed around 50 kilograms (110 pounds), with a skull dwarfing that of its modern cousin. This makes the ancient animal one of the largest known species of otter ever to have existed.
The creature has been named S. melilutra – a compound of “meles”, which refers to badgers, and “lutra”, which denotes otters – due to its mixture of otter- and badger-like skull and teeth. The cheek teeth are of interest because they are what is known as bunodont, which means they have rounded cusps. This suggests that the giant otters had cranial and dental adaptations to feed primarily on large shellfish and molluscs, fossils of which are also abundant in the same layer of rock that the skull was found.