Car-sized turtle was built for battle

Pablo Tucker
February 15, 2020

For millions of years, the South American rainforest has fostered unique fauna, including some of the most incredible extinct giant rodents and crocodilians, including crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gavials.

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

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.

According to one of the paleontologists, Roger Wood first described the giant in 1976.


The new fossils were found in the Tatacoa desert of Colombia and the Urumaco region of Venezuela.

And if that doesn't blow your mind, get a load of the size of this thing - the shell alone spans three-metres, meaning the turtle weighed the equivalent of a saloon auto. Edwin Cadena from the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, and his colleagues in the journal Science Advances appreciate this.

Some of these beasts may have been the size of a vehicle and males also had unique horned shells which they think were used to take on other turtles. This was most likely a predator of the giant turtle, given not only its size and dietary preferences, but also as inferred by bite marks and punctured bones in fossil carapaces of Stupendemys. This may explain the fact why these turtles were able to reach such a huge size.

Marcelo Sánchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of UZH and head of the study, said, "In some individuals, the complete carapace showed a peculiar and unexpected feature: horns".


Although they don't know what exactly caused it to go extinct, researchers know that its habitat was disrupted when the Andes mountains rose and separated the Amazon, Orinoco and Magdalena rivers. (1,145 kilograms). "This is nearly 100 times the size of its closest living relative, the Amazon river turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus), and twice the size of the largest living turtle, the marine leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)", according to experts.

"It shows us that extremely large shells were not only exclusive of marine turtles but also occurred in freshwater turtles", Cadena said.

They think the giant turtle lived at the bottom of lakes and rivers alongside giant crocodile eating a diverse diet of small animals, vegetation, fruit and seeds. It is believed to be one of the largest turtles that lived in the lakes and rivers of Northern South America from about 13 million years ago to 7 million years ago. "And knowing the evolutionary history of extant species is a key part of to formulate integral plans and educate for their conservation".


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