Car-sized turtle was built for battle

Fossils shed new light on car-sized turtle that once roamed South America

The massive reptile lived across the entirety of the northern part of South America. But, this isn't anything new.

Where there is only desert today, there was a network of rivers and lakes five million years ago, in which in addition to giant turtles ... Among their most formidable prey: the Stupendemys geographicus, a colossal turtle about which little was known - until now. Since the giant tortoises swallow very large fruits and their seeds could be excreted from some distance away, Stupendemys geographicus probably had an important distribution role in the ecosystem. Credit: Produced by Rio Verde for Edwin Cadena.

This is about an 8-million-year-old turtle shell that was found in Venezuela - it measures about 8 feet long, and this makes it the largest complete turtle shell that is known to science so far, according to the latest reports.

Cadena and his team found more marks, too, some that told of their fearsome, frantic fights with the Purussaurus, the giant caimans that roamed the northern Neotropics during the Miocene epoch, the same time and place as the Stupendemys.

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

By studying the shells and lower jaw fossils, researchers discovered the males had horned shells to protect their skulls.


"For nearly four decades, we didn't have new and excellently preserved fossils of this turtle", Edwin Cadena, a palaeontologist at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and one of the study's lead researchers, told The Washington Post.

"The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed-males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells", says Marcelo Sánchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich.

The stupendous turtle was massive by modern standards, but not when compared to some of the enormous crocodile ancestors that occupied the same prehistoric swamps of its era.

The new findings provide the most thorough accounting yet of the Stupendemys, helping scientists answer crucial questions about what may have been the largest turtle to ever live.

Researchers say they've unearthed several fossils from Stupendemys geographicus, a massive freshwater turtle that grew up to four metres (13 feet) long and weighed more than one metric tonne.

Newly described jaws and partial skeletons belonging to Stupendemys also proved essential at revising its position in the evolutionary family tree, suggesting that some living turtles from the Amazon are its closest living relatives.

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