Wolf-sized otter terrorised China

prehistoric giant otters in China six million years ago
The ancient species of otter was twice as big as today's otters. (Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

The remains of a previously unknown species of giant otter that lived six million years ago have been unearthed and digitally reconstructed by paleontologists.

The China-based paleontologists claim that the ancient animal is the largest known otter to have ever walked the earth, and may have played a similar role in prehistoric China's ecosystem to that of a modern wolf.

The giant otter's skull
The giant otter's skull had been crushed and needed a CT scan to reveal it's secrets (Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

A complete skull of the otter, which paleontologists have christened Siamogale melilutra, was discovered in south-western China in 2010, but recent finds such as teeth, lower jaw and limb bones mean paleontologists are now able to reconstruct how the ancient animal may have appeared and lived.

They say the extinct otter was twice the size of a modern otter weighing almost 50kg, and that the fossil discoveries are incredibly important, as otters generally have a poor fossil record.

"The skull was unlike any other animals found so far, and that's when we realised that this is something unique and important," researcher Xiaoming Wang told Live Science.

Mr Wang's team used a CT scanner to digitally restore the skull's shape, which had been crushed.