Giant otters lived alongside ancient people. They were bigger than lions

The new species was named Enhydriodon omoensis. It lived on earth from 3.5 to 2.5 million years ago and coexisted with a group of extinct

human relatives known asaustralopithecines. These are bipedal hominids that lived from 4.2 to 2 million years ago. E. omoensis was colossal in size compared to its modern relatives. The authors of the study estimated that he weighed more than 200 kg.

E. omoensis may have eaten both terrestrial and aquatic prey while hunting or scavenging, but researchers believe it spent its days on land rather than in water.

In addition to the huge size, the feature of the otter wasin that it was not aquatic, like all modern species. Scientists found out by analyzing isotopes in the teeth of Enhydriodon omoensis. The researchers found that his diet was similar to that of land animals.

Reconstruction of the otter Enhydriodon omoensis (onbackground) compared to three modern species from left to right: the South American giant otter; sea ​​otter; and African otter. The insets show the femur and teeth of an otter.
Photo: Sabine Riffo, Camille Grohe/Palevoprim/CNRS - University of Poitiers

The new species was named after the Lower Omo Valley onsouthwest Ethiopia, where he discovered the remains. The weight was calculated by studying the fossils of the teeth and femur. The researchers also measured the ratio of isotopes - variations of the element with different numbers of neutrons - stable oxygen and carbon in tooth enamel. The oxygen values ​​suggested how dependent the species was on water.

Previously, scientists believed that the genus Enhydriodon leadssemi-aquatic lifestyle and feeds on animals such as mollusks and turtles. E. omoensis is one of several species of giant otters that lived in Eurasia and Africa about 2 million years ago.

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On the cover: an illustration of an extinct giant otter named Enhydriodon omoensis.
Image credit: Sabine Riffaud/PALEVOPRIM/Université de Poitiers/CNRS