Fossils of giant, car-sized turtles discovered in South America

Fossils of giant, car-sized turtles discovered in South America

An artist’s conception of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus: male (front) and female (left) swimming in freshwater.

Fossils of a giant turtle that was as big as a car have been discovered in South America, scientists report in a new study published this week.

It’s “one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed,” said study lead author Marcelo Sánchez, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich, in a statement.

The colossal, long-extinct beast lived 5 to 10 million years ago and measured about nine-and-a-half feet long, roughly the size and shape of a mid-size car.

Known by the Latin name Stupendemys geographicus, the freshwater turtle was about 100 times larger than its closest living relative today, the big-headed Amazon river turtle. It had a body mass of about 2,500 pounds.

Fossils indicate that the male of the species had a horned shell, while the female did not. “The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed – males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells,” said Sánchez.

The horns – which are rare in turtles – may have been used during male-on-male combat, researchers say, as they may have served to protect their massive skulls during fights.

As for predators, they included gigantic alligator-like caimans known as Purussaurus. The caimans were most likely a predator of the giant turtle, the study says, given not only the caimans’ size and dietary preferences, but also as inferred by bite marks and punctured bones in the turtle fossils.

The turtles’ diet included fish, snakes and mollusks. 

The study findings significantly expand the known range of the turtle, which roamed present-day Venezuela and Colombia during the late Miocene Epoch, the study said. 

Although the first giant turtle specimens were identified in 1976 from remains discovered in Venezuela,  knowledge of these reptilian giants had stalled due to a lack of full specimens – until now. 

The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giant turtle fossil discovered in South America


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