Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Murderer in the Making: A Tale of Sea Otters



Murderer in the Making: A Tale of Sea Otters

               Sea otters are cute, right? Maybe now they are, but it wasn’t always that way. In 2010, researchers found the complete skull of what they are calling a “wolf-sized otter.” The average otter size today is anywhere from 7-26 pounds depending on the species. The wolf sized ancient otter has been projected (based on skull size) to be as much as 4 times the size of that which is astonishing. It is said to have weighed an average of about 110 pounds. Following up on their research from 2010, in 2015, these researchers found more fossils belonging to the same species of otter. These fossils included lower jaw bones, teeth, and several limb bones. The images show that the teeth and lower jaws are much bigger than your typical otter, in fact they resemble the teeth of a badger. Can you imagine coming face to face with this ancient beast? Researchers don’t know why these otters were so large. Maybe it was due to ancient otters eating larger prey? Although unlikely, it is certainly a possibility. The most probable reason that the researchers have come up with is that these ancient otters were mollusk eaters. Their powerful skull and jaws were most likely used to crack through tough shells of clams. With that being said, I advise you not to worry too much about potential aggressive behavior from today’s modern otters seeing as their large predacious ancestors weren’t so terrifying after all.

Posted by Nicolas Baltayan (Week 1)

8 comments:

  1. Taylor Irwin (Group B)February 9, 2017 at 6:03 PM

    It is so interesting to me that there have been so many fossils of animals similar to animals we have today but so much larger. One example that comes to mind is megalodon, the massive shark that once lived. It really makes you think, why does it seem organisms appear to be shrinking over time? It could make sense that they were larger because of their prey but why would otters need to be larger to eat mollusks? Maybe even mollusks used to be much larger for some reason.

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    1. Hi Taylor, thank you for reading my blog. Yes, it certainly does seem like organisms are becoming smaller over time. Maybe this is due to the increasing intelligence of the organisms that are around today. Leading directly to your second question about why the ancient otters needed to be so big back then to eat mollusks. Yes I agree it could have been due to mollusks being much bigger back then than they are now. After further research on the subject (because I wondered the same thing as you) I came across a point in the article where the researchers discussed how otters today use tools to break open mollusk shells such as rocks and sticks along with their teeth, whereas back then the ancient otters may have been bigger because they hadn't quite figured out how to use rocks and sticks to their advantage. I believe this to be the most plausible reason.

      Posted by Nicolas Baltayan

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  2. I remember reading this article a while ago and being super impressed but also a bit freaked out at the same time! These otters were apparently 1.5 to 2 meters in length, while our otters seem to go from around 0.6 to 1.1 meters. So basically, these otters were packing about four times the weight into double the length, which makes me think that they would probably have been incredibly strong. I wonder why they would have needed to be so big and powerful to crack open mollusks when the otters of our time seem to be doing just fine.

    Posted by Peter Makhoul

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    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your interest in my blog. Regarding your thought about why otters needed to be so big back then, after further research I found that otters now don't have to be as big to crack open mollusks because now they often use tools such as rocks and sticks along with their teeth to break open the shells. While these ancient Otters had all of these tools at their disposal, it is believed that these otters probably didn't understand that they could use tools to help open the shells which may explain why they needed to have much larger teeth.

      Posted by Nicolas Baltayan.

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  3. I am also intrigued by such a universal shrinkage of organisms. Since the Triassic period, it seems that an astonishing number of creatures have been decreasing in size, weight, and ferocity. I have researched this phenomenon previously, and there doesn’t seem to be any factual theories to explain why this is occurring. When considering the survival of the fittest and the inheritance of traits, one would think the larger creatures would more often survive and reproduce. I suppose there is some benefit of having a smaller size, even in organisms such as the otter.

    Posted by Caitlin Lohr

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  5. Whenever I read any article about discoveries in regards to new forms of life that once lived or are currently living, I always think back to the idea of evolution. It still blows my mind that we have transformed from singular cell organisms to full-grown Homo sapiens with opposable thumbs and the ability to walk upright based all on mutations. Your article also makes me think about the fact that there are always going to be gaps in our evolutionary time period. Once someone finds new evidence it just creates more gaps to be filled! For instance in your article I wonder if there is a sea otter in-between this “wolf-sized otter” and the cute little otters we think of today. Evolution is an ever-changing process and it’s so amazing when scientists find different evidence to create such a beautiful and eye-opening timeline of life here on earth.

    Posted by Kate Masterson

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  6. I find it super interesting to read about species that once inhabited the Earth. It’s also really cool to see illustrations of species that are now extinct because some of them almost look like mythical creatures. I’ve always thought otters were super cute but I can’t imagine seeing a wolf-sized otter! I wonder what caused this species to go extinct and why the otters we see today are much smaller than the ones that once inhabited the earth.
    Posted by: Katie Kossack

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