Wolf-Sized Otters Were the Scourge of Prehistoric Chinese Swamps
When Westley and Buttercup ventured into the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, they came into contact with cartoonish ROUSes (i.e. Rodents of Unusual Sizes). While it might’ve seemed like a stretch to believe in such a beast in 1987, 30 years later, there’s evidence that at least one hunted the swamps of prehistoric China.
About 6.2 million years ago, a 110-pound, giant-headed, wolf-sized mega-otter—with a mouth armed with sharp, badger-like teeth—hunted for prey in northeastern Yunnan and southwestern China during the Miocene epoch. Its skeletal remains were first uncovered in 2010 by a joint U.S.-China research team investigating a quarry. What took them so much time to get the word out? For one, the otter’s skull had to be meticulously pieced back together (below). It was done digitally, via CT scanner technology, and shaped into a 3-D model. Additional remains of the otter were subsequently discovered in 2015.
If you’re wondering whether these otter’s had a taste for flesh, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.” The otter was “… more likely a mollusk eater, and its powerful skull and jaws may [have been] designed to crack tough shells of clams,” said lead researcher Xiaoming Wang, a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California.
Read the team’s full study here.