Scientists find car-sized turtle fossil

James Marshall
February 14, 2020

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 worldwide license. The region's unique extinct fauna includes fossils of giant rodents and crocodylians-including crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gavials-that inhabited what is today a desert area in Venezuela. The new fossils included the largest-known turtle shell - 9.4 feet (2.86 meters) long, even larger than Archelon's shell - and the first lower jaw remains, which gave clues about its diet.

The tropical region of South America is one of the world's hot spots when it comes to animal diversity.

Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sanchez lies alongside a carapace of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus, from Urumaco, Venezuela.

Scientists have unearthed new fossils of one of the largest turtles that ever lived: a car-sized reptile which prowled the lakes and rivers of what is now northern South America from about 13m years ago to 7m years ago.

Researchers of the University of Zurich (UZH) and fellow researchers from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil have now reported exceptional specimens of the extinct turtle recently found in new locations across Venezuela and Colombia.

Venezuelan Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of Stupendemys geographicus, from Venezuela, found in 8 million years old deposits.

The huge extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus which lived in lakes and rivers in northern South America during the Miocene Epoch is seen in an illustration released Feb. 12 2020
Scientists find car-sized turtle fossil

Researchers in their study report revealed that the Stupendemys geographicus weighed nearly 1,145 kilograms, and it is nearly a hundred times the size of the Amazon river turtle, its closest relative.

Interestingly, some individuals exhibited an unexpected feature: horns on the carapace.

The fossils also reveal that males of the species had large horns built into the front of their shells, which are thought to have been used for fighting with other males and fending off larger foes.

Despite their hulking size and massive shells, the giant turtles weren't without natural predators. In many areas, the occurrence of Stupendemys coincides with Purussaurus, the largest caimans. Some of the giant turtle fossils featured bite marks and punctured bones.

Sánchez said, "Based on studies of the turtle anatomy, we now know that some living turtles from the Amazon region are the closest living relatives. Furthermore, the discoveries and the investigation of existing fossils from Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela indicate a much wider geographic distribution of Stupendemys than previously assumed". For millions of years, the South American rainforest has fostered unique fauna, including some of the most awesome extinct giant rodents and crocodilians, including crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gavials.

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