In news– A newly found fossils indicate that the Vishnuonyx otter had travelled as far as Germany.
Key updates on recent discovery-
- Researchers from the Universities of Tübingen and Zaragoza have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown species, which they have named Vishnuonyx neptuni, meaning ‘Neptune’s Vishnu’.
- The species was discovered from a 11.4-million-year-old strata in the area of Hammerschmiede, which is a fossil site in Bavaria, Germany that has been studied for about 50 years.
- This is the first discovery of any member of the Vishnuonyx genus in Europe; it is also its most northern and western record till date.
- Vishnuonyx depended on water and could not travel long distances over land.
- However, its travels over 6,000 km were probably made possible by the geography of 12 million years ago, when the Alps were recently formed.
- These Alps and the Iranian Elbrus Mountains were separated by a large ocean basin, which would have made it easier for the otters to cross it.
- Researchers believe ‘Neptune’s Vishnu’ first reached southern Germany, followed by Ancient Guenz and eventually, the Hammerschmiede.
- 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.
The dispersal of Vishnuonyx otters from the Indian subcontinent to Africa and Europe about 13 million years ago.
About Vishnuonyx otters-
- Vishnuonyx were mid-sized predators that weighed, on average, 10-15 kg.
- Before this, the genus was known only in Asia and Africa (recent findings show that Vishnuonyx reached East Africa about 12 million years ago).
- They lived in the major rivers of southern Asia between 12.5 million and 14 million years ago.
- Fossils of these now extinct otters were first discovered in sediments found in the foothills of the Himalayas.
- Otters are carnivorous mammals in the subfamily Lutrinae.
- The 13 extant otter species are all semiaquatic, aquatic or marine, with diets based on fish and invertebrates.
- Lutrinae is a branch of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, mink, and wolverines, among other animals.
- Otters have long, slim bodies and relatively short limbs.
- Their most striking anatomical features are the powerful webbed feet used to swim, and their seal-like abilities holding breath underwater.
- Most have sharp claws on their feet and all except the sea otter have long, muscular tails.
- The Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter species and the giant otter and sea otter are the largest.
- They have very soft, insulated underfur, which is protected by an outer layer of long guard hairs.
- This traps a layer of air which keeps them dry, warm, and somewhat buoyant underwater.