A previously unknown species of otter has been discovered at an excavation site at the Hammerschmiede. The team behind the discovery has already recovered more than 130 different species of extinct vertebrates from river deposits attributed to the Ancient Guenz.
The findings have bee published in Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology. The species has been named Vishnuonyx neptuni, meaning Neptune’s Vishnu otter. The Vishnu otter genus was previously known only from Asia and Africa. Scientists say that the discovery of the Vishnu otter in Bavaria was unexpected as members of this genus were only previously found from regions outside Europe.
Scientists say that the evolutionary history of the 13 otter species that are alive today is comparatively unexplored. Vishnu otters (Vishnuonyx) are mid-sized predators with a weight of ten to 15 kilograms that were first discovered in sediments in the foothills of the Himalayas. They lived 14 to 12.5 million years ago in the major rivers of Southern Asia.
According to recent studies, the new otter seems to have reached East Africa about 12 million years ago. The latest discovery at the 11.4-million-year-old layers of the Hammerschmiede present first evidence that the otter were also present in Europe and chances are that they could have spread from India throughout the entire Old World.
Scientists explain that Vishnu otter depends on water and so there is almost no possibility of it traveling long distances over land to reach to different places around the world. The only possible explanation of the presence of these otters across three different continents is the geographic situation 12 million years ago: 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 Vienna to beyond today’s Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Twelve 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. The researchers assume that Neptune’s Vishnu otter 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.