Fossil otter the size of a lion found in Ethiopia

(ORDO NEWS) — Among modern otters, individuals weighing over 30 kilograms are rarely found, but about three million years ago, an animal lived in Africa, growing as large as a dog and weighing up to 200 kilograms.

Moreover, judging by the composition of the tooth enamel, this giantess more often hunted not for fish and turtles, but for land mammals.

Among modern representatives of otters, the longest is the South American giant otter ( Pteronura brasiliensis ), reaching a length of 1.8 meters, the heaviest is the sea otter, or sea otter ( Enhydra lutris ), weighing up to 45 kilograms.

Compared to other mustelids – weasels, sables and even wolverines – these animals look like giants, but they are mere dwarfs next to the gigantic otter that lived three million years ago in northern Africa.

At that time, giant otters inhabited Eurasia and Africa, and a new species discovered in Ethiopia is one of the largest of them.

Named Enhydriodon omoensis , “Omo sea otter tooth”, it was found in southwestern Ethiopia, in the Lower Omo Valley.

The bones were dug up for several years by several international paleontological expeditions, and as a result, several fragments of the skull, teeth and bones of the limbs of a gigantic animal, which should have been about two meters long and weigh 200 kilograms, turned out to be in the hands of scientists – like a modern lion.

In addition to its huge size, the Ethiopian enhydriodon had another curious feature: after analyzing the composition of stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen in its teeth, scientists came to the conclusion that this beast did not eat fish, turtles and crocodiles, but land mammals, in this regard competing with the ancient hyenas and big cats, also found in the Omo Valley.

Fossil otter the size of a lion found in Ethiopia 2
The giant otter is one of the largest modern representatives of the subfamily, but in terms of lifestyle and dimensions it cannot be compared with a fossil relative

Judging by the composition of carbon isotopes, herbivores feeding on grass and tree leaves served as prey for Enhydrodon, just as a modern lion’s diet may include zebras grazing in the savannah or a baby giraffe plucking branches.

Now scientists have to work on collecting additional fossil samples and establishing the ecological role of the “lion otter”. This will help clarify its lifestyle and establish the reasons for the final extinction of giant otters about two million years ago.


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