Science & Technology

Neptune’s Vishnu Otter: A New Species Discovered in Germany

The dispersal of the Vishnuonyx otters from the Indian subcontinent to Africa and Europe about 13 million years in the past. The star (HAM 4) exhibits the place of the Hammerschmiede fossil web site. Credit score: Nikos Kargopoulos

An Indian Otter discovered at Hammerschmiede: Neptune’s Vishnu otter arrived 11.4 million years in the past from Southeast Asia.

Researchers from the Universities of Tübingen and Zaragoza have found a beforehand unknown species of otter from 11.4-million-year-old strata on the Hammerschmiede fossil web site.

The excavation web site in the Allgäu area of Germany turned world-renowned in 2019 for discoveries of the bipedal ape Danuvius guggenmosi. The brand new species, revealed in the present day in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, was named Vishnuonyx neptuni, which means Neptune’s Vishnu otter. The Vishnu otter genus was beforehand identified solely from Asia and Africa.

The analysis staff is conducting excavations on the Hammerschmiede underneath the course of Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment on the College of Tübingen. It has already recovered greater than 130 completely different species of extinct vertebrates from river deposits attributed to the Historical Guenz. Many of those species are tailored to life in and round water. Nonetheless, the detection of a Vishnu otter in Bavaria was surprising, since representatives of this genus had beforehand solely been identified from areas exterior Europe.

One in six species of in the present day’s predatory mammals lives aquatically, both in the oceans, equivalent to seals, or in freshwater, equivalent to otters. The evolutionary historical past of the 13 otter species that happen in the present day remains to be comparatively unexplored. Vishnu otters (Vishnuonyx) are mid-sized predators with a weight of ten to fifteen kilograms that had been first found in sediments in the foothills of the Himalayas. They lived 14 to 12.5 million years in the past in the main rivers of Southern Asia.

The decrease jaw of the brand new otter species, Vishnuonyx neptuni, with an in depth view of its enamel in a 3D mannequin taken by means of a micro-CT scanner. Credit score: Nikos Kargopoulos

Current finds confirmed that Vishnu otters reached East Africa about 12 million years in the past. The invention in the now 11.4-million-year-old layers of the Hammerschmiede is the primary proof that additionally they occurred in Europe – presumably spreading from India all through all the Outdated World. Like all otters, the Vishnu otter is dependent upon water; it can’t journey lengthy distances over land. Its monumental dispersal of greater than 6,000 kilometers throughout three continents was made potential by the geographic state of affairs 12 million years in the past: newly fashioned mountain ranges from the Alps in the west to the Iranian Elbrus Mountains in the east separated a big ocean basin from the Tethys Ocean, the forerunner of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

This created the Paratethys, an unlimited Eurasian physique of water that prolonged from Vienna to past in the present day’s Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Twelve million years in the past, it had solely a slim connection to the Indian Ocean, the so-called Araks Strait in the world of modern-day Armenia. The researchers assume that Neptune’s Vishnu otter adopted this connection to the west and reached southern Germany, the Historical Guenz, and the Hammerschmiede by way of the rising delta of the Historical Danube to the west of what’s now the town of Vienna.

On the not too long ago based Heart for Visualization, Digitization, and Replication in the Division of Geosciences on the College of Tübingen, researchers used computer-tomographic strategies to visualise the best particulars in the fossils’ tooth construction. This method allowed the exact commentary of very small constructions in the otter’s dentition. The pointed cusps, reducing blades, and restricted grinding areas recommend a weight loss program primarily based totally on fish. Ecologically, Neptune’s Vishnu otter is thus extra just like the Eurasian otter than to the Pacific sea otter or the African and Asian clawless otters – each teams desire crustaceans or shellfish over fish in their weight loss program.

Reference: “New early Late Miocene species of Vishnuonyx (Carnivora, Lutrinae) from the hominid locality of Hammerschmiede, Bavaria, Germany” by Nikolaos Kargopoulos, Alberto Valenciano, Panagiotis Kampouridis, Thomas Lechner and Madelaine Böhme, 16 September 2021, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1948858

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