11-Million-Year-Old Fossil of Large-Sized Otter Found in Germany
A new species of the extinct genus Vishnuonyx has been identified from the 11.4-million-year-old lower jaw found at the Upper Miocene site of Hammerschmiede in the Allgäu region of Germany.
Vishnuonyx is an extinct genus of mid-sized otters (10-15 kg) that lived between 14 and 12.5 million years ago in the major rivers of Southern Asia.
Commonly known as the Vishnu otters, they were first discovered in sediments in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The new species differs from the already known members of the genus in size — intermediate between the African Vishnuonyx angololensis and the Asiatic Vishnuonyx chinjiensis — and morphology.
Named the Neptune’s Vishnu otter (Vishnuonyx neptuni), it represents the first occurrence of the genus in Europe and its most northern and western record.
“Recent finds showed that Vishnu otters reached East Africa about 12 million years ago,” said Dr. Nikolaos Kargopoulos, a paleontologist in the Department of Geosciences at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, and his colleagues.
“The discovery is the first evidence that they also occurred in Europe — possibly spreading from India throughout the entire Old World.”
“Its enormous dispersal of more than 6,000 km across three continents was made possible by the geographic situation 12 million years ago.”
“The newly formed mountain ranges from the Alps in the west to the Iranian Elbrus Mountains in the east separated a large ocean basin from the Tethys Ocean, the forerunner of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.”
“This created the Paratethys, a vast Eurasian body of water that extended from Germany to beyond today’s Aral Sea in Kazakhstan.”
“About 12 million years ago, it had only a narrow connection to the Indian Ocean, the so-called Araks Strait in the area of modern-day Armenia.”
“We assume that Vishnuonyx neptuni followed this connection to the west and reached southern Germany, the Ancient Guenz, and the Hammerschmiede via the emerging delta of the Ancient Danube to the west of what is now the city of Vienna.”
The researchers used computer-tomographic methods to visualize the finest details in Vishnuonyx neptuni’s teeth.
“We suggest that Vishnuonyx neptuni was feeding mainly on fish and less on bivalves or plant material, resembling the living giant otter Pteronura brasiliensis.”
The discovery of Vishnuonyx neptuni is reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.
Nikolaos Kargopoulos et al. New Early Late Miocene species of Vishnuonyx (Carnivora, Lutrinae) from the hominid locality of Hammerschmiede, Bavaria, Germany. Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, published online September 16, 2021; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1948858