Fossil of a giant otter found in Ethiopia: it was the size of a lion and weighed 200 kg

Fossil of a giant otter found in Ethiopia: it was the size of a lion and weighed 200 kg

The fossil remains of a huge otter have been found in the Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia. The prehistoric animal coexisted with the australopithecines.

The size of the giant otter in comparison with a human being, an Australopithecus (his contemporary), and three modern otters. Credit: Sabine Riffaut, Camille Grohé / Palevoprim / CNRS – Université de Poitiers

At a paleontological site in Ethiopia, I discovered fossil remains of a gigantic otter, the largest ever to have lived on Earth, at least among those known to scientists. The animal indeed had the size of a modern lion about a couple of meters long, with an estimated weight of 200 kilograms. To make the discovery even more exceptional, the fact that this huge otter had terrestrial habits was not aquatic or semi-aquatic like modern otters.

Discovering and describing the fossils of the giant otter was an international research team led by French scientists from the University of Poitiers, who collaborated closely with colleagues from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the Columbia University of New York (United States United) and the Center Français des Études Éthiopiennes.

The scientists, coordinated by Professor Camille Grohl, professor at the Laboratory Paleontology Evolution Paleoecosystems Paleoprimatology of the French university, have discovered the remains of the prehistoric animal in the Lower Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia, an interesting paleontological site pliocenico. The species has been classified under the scientific name of Enhydriodon osmosis just in homage to the area where his fossils were found, with some teeth and a big femur.

Prehistoric otters of the genus Enhydriodon were already known to be the largest ever, but none match the new species in size, which coexisted with our ancestors. australopithecines between 3.5 and 2.5 million years ago. As indicated, the otter weighed around 200 kilograms, a real colossus compared to the modern European otter (between 7 and 12 kilograms), but also in comparison with the South American giant otter (32 kilograms) and the North Pacific sea otter (45 kilograms).

From analyzes of the isotopes found in the teeth, the researchers determined that otters of the genus Enhydriodon ate clams, crustaceans, turtles, crocodiles, and other aquatic animals, leading aquatic or semi-aquatic life just like modern otters. The findings on the new species have however revealed a surprising detail: the isotopes in the teeth of Enhydriodon osmosis are comparable to those of terrestrial carnivores of the Omo Valley, as big cats e one. The researchers, therefore, believe that it fed on herbivores, just like the other predators of the savannah.

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With the next investigations, the researchers will try to understand the reasons that led to the extinction of such extraordinary and fascinating animals. The details of the research “Lutrinae Bonaparte, 1838 (Carnivora, Mustelidae) from the Plio-Pleistocene of the Lower Omo Valley, southwestern Ethiopia: systematics and new insights into the paleoecology and paleobiogeography of the Turkana otters” have been published in the journal Publications Scientifiques.

Reference: Wikipedia

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