Wolf-Sized Otter Discovered in China

To add to the growing list of bizarre Chinese animals discovered lately, a new study published in The Journal of Systematic Paleontology is reporting the discovery of a massive, “giant size” otter that once roamed the rivers of prehistoric China. While the animal isn’t quite what we’d recognize as an otter today, comparisons with both extinct and living otters reveals the beast to firmly be a weird, terrifying ancient otter.

Siamogale melilutra lived in shallow, swampy waters of prehistoric central China.

Siamogale melilutra lived in shallow, swampy waters of prehistoric central China.

The 6.2-million-year-old Siamogale melilutra otter dwarfed any known living otters, reaching weights of up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms). Researchers were able to make assumptions about the otter’s physiology after recreating its skull, which had been crushed over millions of years. By scanning each individual piece, researchers were able to digitally recreate the skull like a jigsaw puzzle.

The skull was found in a quarry between layers of coal.

The skull was found in a quarry between layers of coal.

The recreated skull showed the massive otters had huge teeth and incredibly powerful jaws which were likely used to crush the shells of large mollusks. According to Xiaoming Wang, lead author of the study of the otter, many questions remain about how such a large mammal survived at the time:

The skull was unlike [that of] any other animals found so far, and that’s when we realized that this is something unique and important. We are working to answer questions regarding its paleobiology, like, ‘How did it swim? How did it move on the ground? Why is it so large?

I’m loving these weird animal stories coming out of China. Like with all things historical, China has a deep, ancient history full of mysterious creatures. Sightings of the Chinese equivalent of Bigfoot, Yeren, have been reported since at least the 17th century. More recently, bizarre creatures keep turning up in China thanks to a mixture of pollution and rapid urban development. Aside from horrible mutants and what is quite obviously a CGI dragon, the sighting of a rare “mythical” animal straight out of ancient Chinese folklore has put China squarely on the cryptid map lately.  

Yeren would have been much cooler.

Yeren would have been much cooler.