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Fossils of utterly huge otter unearthed in China

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Scientists have unearthed fossils of an intriguingly large otter as big as a wolf that frolicked in rivers and lakes in a lush, warm and humid wetlands region in southwestern China about 6.2 million years ago.

The outsized otter, called Siamogale melilutra, weighed about 110 pounds (50 kg) and measured up to 6-1/2 feet (2 meters) long, making it bigger than any of its cousins alive today, the researchers said on Monday.

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“Siamogale melilutra reminds us, I think, of the diversity of life in the past and how many more questions there are still to answer. Who would have imagined a wolf-size otter?” said Denise Su, Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator of paleobotany and paleoecology.

It had enlarged cheek teeth and strong jaws that appear to have been used for crunching hard objects, perhaps large shellfish and freshwater mollusks, and was capable of swimming in shallow, swampy waters.

“I think it used its powerful jaws to crush hard clams for food, somewhat like modern sea otters, although the latter use stone tools to smash shells,” said Xiaoming Wang, head of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“If Siamogale melilutra was not smart enough to figure out tools, perhaps the only option left was to develop more powerful jaws by increasing body size,” Wang added.

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The fossils, found at a site in China’s Yunnan Province, include a largely complete cranium and lower jaw, various teeth, and limb bones.

The skull was crushed eons ago during the fossilization process. The researchers used sophisticated scanning to digitally reconstruct it, discovering it boasted a mix of otter-like and badger-like skull and dental traits.

There was intense interest in the fossil site because an important prehistoric ape skull previously had been unearthed there. Others fossils found include elephants, rhinos, tapirs, deer, beavers, crocodiles and water birds including ducks, swans and cranes.

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The largest otter alive today is the South American giant river otter, weighing up to about 70 pounds (32 kg). Otters belong to a mammalian family including the weasel, badger, marten and mink. The earliest-known otter lived about 18 million years ago. But otter evolution is not well understood, with fossils rare and scattered around the world.

Siamogale melilutra may not be the largest otter ever, with fossils of another one that may be the biggest previously found in Africa.

The research was published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

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(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

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As many as 20 corrections officers have been subpoenaed by grand jury investigating Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide

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According to sources interviewed by CNN, as many as 20 correctional officers are being called to testify before the grand jury investigating how Jeffrey Epstein was able to kill himself.

It was reported late Wednesday that there were eight officers who knew to watch Epstein while he was housed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Epstein had left "suicide watch" after an alleged suicide attempt, and he was supposed to remain under the watchful eye of officers. However, the officers are overworked and the prison understaffed, requiring officers to work several overtime shifts, the officer's union explained.

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Vegan parents who severely malnourished 10-month-old daughter to the point of bone loss will avoid jail time

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An Australian couple will avoid jail time and instead serve 300 hours of community service after they pled guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life for their 19-month-old daughter, Australian outlet 7News reported this Thursday.

The mother (33) and father (35), who have not been publicly identified for legal reasons, fed their daughter a strict vegan diet that caused the child to become severely malnourished. The child was in such ill health that she weighed just over 10 pounds when authorities discovered her. Additionally, doctors found that due to her strict diet, her bones had not developed properly since she was born and she had yet to grow teeth.

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‘All over the map’: CNN details the bizarre surge of Trump’s flip-flops

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Following two mass shootings in one weekend, President Donald Trump promised to strengthen background checks for gun purchases. But just the next week--reportedly after speaking with NRA head Wayne LaPierre--dropped his resolve and said there were already sufficient background checks on the books.

That's not the only recent policy flip-flop by the President.

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