Otters Were as Big as Lions In Prehistoric Ethiopia
One of our hominin ancestors was chowing down on leaves along a riverside in what is now Ethiopia some three million years ago. With teeth strong enough to break bones and 440 pounds of fur.
There it was, an otter of a large male lion size ambled through the dense grasses before it bent down to drink water from the muddy riverside.
We figure our ancestors crept into the surrounding woodlands. No matter how adorable or not adorable the giant otter may have been, no one would want to come in contact with an animal of that size.
The otter, Enhydriodon omoensis, remains the largest ever found. A recent study in Comptes Rendus Palevol (a French journal) is the first to place this species, where it was named after Ethiopia's Omo River, where its remains were discovered.
While the study named the otter "lion-sized," Margaret Lewis, a palaeontologist at Stockton University in New Jersey, thinks this undersells it in a way.
She says "Bear otter" is perhaps a better phrase to encapsulate the massive size of these otters. "Okay, grizzly otter it is."
The otter's large size wasn't the only thing that was surprising to the lead author of the study, Camille Grohe, who is a carnivore specialist of the University of Poitiers in France.
Testing on the oxygen and carbon isotopes obtained from the otter's teeth shows that, far from its modern descendants that are semi-aquatic, Enhydriodon omoensis lived mainly on land. Grohe says, "I really did not expect that."
Settled in the southwest corner of Ethiopia, the less Omo Valley is a Paleontology superstar.
Close to where they found the incomplete remains of Enhydriodon omoensis, palaeontologists, often with locals' help, have discovered numerous fossils that belong to our early hominin ancestors.
Yohannes Haile-Selassie, an Ethiopian palaeontologist of Arizona State University, says, "The Omo Valley is one of the earliest known [sites] of paleontological significance."
As early as the 1900s, European explorers described that they saw fossils spotting the hillsides along the Omo River.
Then, an international team of scientists surveyed the area in 1967 "that is when they started discovering all kinds of things," says Haile-Selassie.
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